Land acquisition halted due to agitation by both supporters and opponents

Land acquisition for Rs 52,000 crore Posco steel plant was resumed today in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district after a three-day break but had to be abandoned mid-way following protests by anti-Posco activists.

Land acquisition involving demolition of betel vines and felling of trees, which had been suspended since April 26, resumed at Gobindpur village near Paradip, a senior district administration official said.

However, only three betel vines could be demolished and 20 trees felled with payment of Rs four lakh to land losers as the administration suspended the work for the day following demonstration by anti-Posco activists, sources said.

After a brief lull, anti-Posco brigade upped their ante and attempted to disrupt the land acquisition process for the mega project proposed by the South Korean steel major.

In the face of resistance by villagers belonging to Dhinkia panchayat, considered the epi-centre of anti-Posco agitation, the administration decided to stop land acquisition operation for the day, they said adding that the work would be undertaken tomorrow.

Slogan shouting protesters demanding immediate halt to demolition of betel vines and felling of trees entered into Gobindpur area from Patna under Dhinkia panchayat.

The administration appeared to have been caught off guard as many opponents had changed their strategy by reaching the site much before the work for the day had commenced.

Ten platoons of police comprising about 350 personnel were deployed in the area. District collector S K Mallick and SP Satyabrat Bhoi were present. However, no untoward incident was reported, official sources said.

Additional District Magistrate (ADM), Paradip, Surjeet Das said there was no reason to oppose land acquisition in Gobindpur because the lands of only those who had given their consent were being acquired.

“We are not going to Dhinkia nor damaging betel vines in that area. There is no point in protesting demolition of betel of the owners (in Gobindpur) who had given their consent for the purpose”, Das said.

After work was stopped for the day, the opponents assembled near Patna hat to chalk out their future strategy. “We’ll intensify our protest tomorrow and prevent the administration from carrying out the process”, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) leaders said.

The present phase of land acquisition, which commenced on April 22, was temporarily suspended on April 25 during which 53 betel vines were dismantled and 500 trees felled with payment of Rs 71 lakh.

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Land acquisition for Posco’s mega steel plant near here was halted soon after it began today in the face of opposition from both the supporters and opponents of the project.

“We could demolish only two patches of betel vines and cut 54 trees today,” Jagtsinghpur district collector S K Mallick told reporters as the officials wind up the day’s work at the proposed plant site villages.

While supporters of the project led by Ranjan Bardhan asked the district administration to announce rehabilitation package before proceeding further, the opponents held a demonstration near the betel vine demolition site.

“We are not opposed to the project. We assist the administration to undertake land acquisition activities. But, that does not mean we have withdrawn our demands. The villagers want rehabilitation before further progress,” Bardhan said adding that the people who lost jobs due to demolition of betel vines were not compensated.

Meanwhile, the opponents for the first time held talks with the District Collector and demanded complete withdrawal of the project. “We have told the people opposing the project that the administration acquired land from those who wanted to give away their betel vines. There has been no forceful land acquisition as alleged by them,” District Collector Mallick said.

The district administration also made it clear that it would again go on land acquisition drive with consent of the people.

The land acquisition process which was suspended for three days, had resumed yesterday at Gobindpur village.

[Sources — Financial Express & Business Standard]


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