Move marks restart of land acquisition for steel plant; police say they were only protecting farmers who wanted to give land
In a questionable land acquisition effort by government, hundreds of armed police personnel barged into Gobindpur village—a settlement that falls in the project area of South Korean steel major POSCO’s proposed mega steel mill in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district—before sunrise on Sunday.
The pre-dawn swoop marked resumption of land acquisition for the Rs 51,000 crore steel project which local people have been opposing vehemently for the past eight years.
Land acquisition for the mega project had been halted following death of a person during construction of a coastal road for the project on December 14, 2011.
“Some village residents, who were willing to part with their betel vineyards in Gobindpur village, had sought police protection. Since we had report that members of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) were preparing to cause violence, we moved police personnel into the village,” said Jagatsinghpur superintendent of police Satyabrata Bhoi.
Vineyards demolished, compensation handed out
At the end of day, the district administration razed 13 betel vineyards to the ground and disbursed the compensation amount in cheques to residents. The district administration announced that the ongoing exercise would continue till the vineyards of farmers willing to give land are taken over.
According to Jagatsinghpur district administration sources, 16 platoons of police (nearly 400 personnel) were deployed at different places in the project area in view of rising tension. Although police tried to take PPSS activists by surprise by starting land acquisition in the wee hours, some villagers protested the move. Villagers clashed with police personnel. Later police chased them away.
Jagatsinghpur Member of Parliament Bibhu Prasad Tarai and his supporters staged a demonstration nearby at Patna Chhak, demanding withdrawal of police force. PPSS activists, who are mostly from Dhinkia, came in procession and chanted slogans against police action.
“Police have deceptively entered to the villages with full force at 4 am on Sunday. When villagers protested, they were taken into custody. Police indiscriminately started pulling down betel vineyards and cutting trees forcefully,” said Prashant Paikray, spokesperson of PPSS.
“We fail to understand why the Naveen Patnaik government is so desperate to acquire land when the National Green Tribunal has already suspended the environment clearance for the proposed POSCO project,” said Pikray.
In 2005, POSCO had signed memorandum of understanding with the Odisha government for setting up a 12 million tonne per annum capacity steel plant at an estimated cost of Rs 51,000 crore.
About 1,620 hectares (ha) of land is required for the project. Of the total land, 177 ha is private land, 246 ha is non-forest government land and 1,197 ha is recorded revenue forest. As the people’s protest against the project grew, the company had to change its plan.
POSCO India Private Limited—POSCO’s Indian subsidiary—submitted a revised proposal for establishing 8 mtpa-capacity-steel plant on 1093 ha. Industry watchers say it is make or break situation for the company.
As the next election is scheduled to be held in 2014, the state government may not be able to use force for land acquisition after a few months. This is the most opportune time to get hold of the remaining land. The Jagatsinghpur district administration claims to be in possession of around 809.37 ha. Another 283.28 ha would enable the company to start its 8mtpa capacity project. However, leaders of PPSS have announced they will resist the fresh acquisition using all their strength.
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