Survey of project-affected villages to continue peacefully BY ASHUTOSH MISHRA Bhubaneswar
People agitating against the Pohang Steel Company's (POSCO) proposed plant in Jagatsinghpur district in Orissa appear to have softened their stance on the project following a meeting with chief minister Naveen Patnaik on June 13. At the meeting in Bhubaneswar, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) representatives agreed to allow the state government to continue its socio-economic survey of the three gram panchayats at the project site provided no policemen accompanied the surveyors. The villagers and activists had so far been resisting the survey that began on May 25.
“They (PPSS) assured me the survey work will continue in the area peacefully and requested me to visit the area. I will visit the area at an appropriate time. Let the survey work be completed,” Patnaik told mediapersons after the meeting. He clarified there was no discussion on moving the project from its site which has been the main demand of anti-POSCO agitators. Officials said a new rehabilitation package would be announced on the basis of the
The survey includes counting and measuring houses, betel vines and other trees in the project site. It started with Gadkuganj panchayat where 30 survey officers, divided into six teams, were accompanied by over 200 policemen. In Nuagaon panchayat, the survey was marred by violence on June 2 when police lathi-charged people participating in a sit-in protest. Sarpanch of Nuagaon, Bhaskar Swain, was one of those injured in the incident. Officials went on to complete the survey and played down the violence but Swain said the administration could not ignore the sentiments of the people. Survey is yet to be conducted in Dhinkia panchayat, where the resistance is the strongest.
Two rounds of talks held between the state government officials and PPSS activists on May 29 and June 5 failed to resolve the deadlock.
Earlier on May 15, the police had lathi-charged protesters blocking road access to the project site and fired rubber bullets at them. Over 100 persons, including women, were injured (see 'Police clears way for POSCO', Down To Earth, June 1-15, 2010).
Jagatsinghpur collector Narayan Chandra Jena said the survey was launched after discussion with members of the pro- POSCO forum, the United Action Committee that has been opposing PPSS. The Committee leaders want an enhanced rehabilitation package, though, they are not against the project.
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