POSCO villages resist land acquisition by Odisha government

Despite protests administration demolishes 37 betel gardens on the forestland. Land acquistion put on hold till June 17

By Sayantan Bera
Published: Monday 13 June 2011

June 11 saw 2,000 residents of Dhinkia and Govindapur—including women and children—prostrating on the scorching 45ºC degree sand, as 800 policemen stood alert trying to enter the proposed POSCO sites to acquire forestland. The villagers were protesting the land acquisition for the POSCO plant which resumed on May 18, 2011, after a 10-month hiatus.

South Korean steel major POSCO’s US $12 billion steel plant—in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha—is the largest proposed foreign direct investment (FDI) for India. But in the face of stiff opposition from residents, who depend on these forestlands for cultivation of betel vines and paddy, the project has not moved in the last six years. The matter is also before the Orissa High Court, as residents who are opposed to the project have filed a litigation claiming they did not give consent to the diversion of forestland—a necessary condition under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 (see ‘POSCO faces fresh litigation, protest’, Down To Earth, June 1-15, 2011).

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Meanwhile, on June 12, Jairam Ramesh, Union minister of environment and forests warned the Odisha government not to use his clearance for the project “as a license for forcible acquisition of land.” The minister had given a final clearance for diversion of forestland to the POSCO project on May 2, 2011. In the final order, Ramesh had reposed his faith in the state government’s assertion that there are no valid claims under the FRA. He had also called implementation of FRA a “learning and evolving process”. The villagers' claim to their traditional dependence on forest land was deemed fraudulent by the state government (see ‘POSCO gets final clearance’, Down To Earth, May 16-31, 2011).

Despite the ongoing protests, in the past two days, the state administration reportedly demolished 37 betel gardens on the forestland. While they disbursed Rs 8.25 lakh to six betel garden owners, the other 31 refused to accept the compensation cheques.

In view of the upcoming Raja festival, the land acquisition process has been put on hold till June 17. The festival celebrates the onset of monsoon and beginning of the main agricultural season. Meanwhile, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), the local group spearheading the agitation, said they will maintain their vigil against any attempt to forcibly acquire land.

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