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People versus State: Conflict over POSCO Project grows in Odisha

 

Updated Monday June 09, 2014

Odisha, POSCO, Livelihood, Economy, Government, People  
 

The dream project of Odisha government has become a nightmare for the people living in the proposed Posco project area. The conflict between Industrial development and livelihood has brought the State and people face to face. In such a situation, it may not become an easy sail either for POSCO or the protesting people to arrive at any logical conclusion.

 
Basudev Mahapatra  
 

No matter if it was lawful or unlawful. But the government of Odisha was determined to deal with any hurdle on the way of land acquisition for South Korean Steel major Posco’s 12 Million tonne Steel Plant project in the eco-sensitive coastal plains of Jagatsinghpur.

After a year long halt, Odisha government suddenly took an aggressive stand to restart land acquisition operations in Jagatsinghpur for the Posco Steel project. Accompanied by huge police forces the district administration entered the place of demonstration by anti-posco protesters on February 3, 2013, at about 4 am. The administration exercised its muscle to drive out the protesters by beating even the women and children brutally.

 

After hours long police brutality, finally the village of Govindpur came under the control of the government. Soon after there was demolition of betel vines and acquisition of land amid police forces.

Justifying the resumed land acquisition drive by using police forces as lawful, the District Collector of Jagatsinghpur, Satya Kumar Mallick, said repeatedly that “We are acquiring land with the consent from people while following all norms of the land acquisition procedure approved by the Rehabilitation and Periphery Development Advisory Committee (RPDAC),”.

But the realities on ground gave a completely different picture.

Take the case of Ranjan Parida of Gobindpur village whose whole family was in tear since their betel vine was demolished and the land was acquired by Odisha government for South Korean Steel major Posco’s proposed India project. The compensation money was no allurement to Ranjan or other family members because, to them, the family had lost its last hope – the betel vine – that provided a comfortable livelihood to the family since generations.

Ranjan was afraid of seeing too much of police around him and, out of fear, agreed to the demolition proposal given by officials of Jagatsinghpur district administration of Odisha. “I had gone to my betel vine. They asked me to give the land. There was huge number of police. I had never seen so much of police before. Out of fear, I couldn’t deny and said yes. They demolished my betel vine and gave me a cheque,” said Ranjan while crying. Sitting at the door of the house almost like a lost woman, Ranjan’s old mother Kanduri Prida said, “we lost our last hope.”

It’s not only Ranjan and his family that live with agony since they lost their ancestral vineyard, many others like Kamala Parida, Bharat Bardhan, Ramesh Bardhan and Nimai Rout of Gobindpur village are also upset for losing their vineyard for the Posco project. As the economy of this area is based on betel leaf business, losing the vineyard makes a reason for them to become upset.

“A betel vine,” usually raised on a land area of 40 decimal, “fetches a profit of minimum 85,000 rupees a quarter, thus 3,40,000 rupees a year. So vines built on an acre land area is to fetch us an annual profit of rupees 8,50,000,” said Bishnu Das, a betel leaf grower in the proposed project area.

But against an acre of land, these villagers are paid only 11 lakh rupees as total compensation money for all the time. So, no farmer is ready to hand over the betel vine against compensation money of about two and half lakhs. While some of the local representatives and Odisha government officials believe that the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy followed in the proposed Posco project is one of the bests in the country, the villagers at the receiving end do not believe so.

Rejecting any package under the R&R Policy, PPSS Chairman Abhay Sahu said, “We are not for POSCO. We are not for bargaining with the government. We are against POSCO and our fight will continue till the logical conclusion, and till the POSCO is out.”

On the other hand, the initiative undertaken by the Jagatsinghpur district administration to clear the required land for the project with people’s consent has been welcomed by the Posco through a release issued on its behalf.

So far, Odisha government has handed over 1700 acres of land to Posco Company out of which 400 acres are non-forest land and rest are de-reserved forest land. The company is in need of another 1000 acres to start construction works. But the ruling by the National Green Tribunal of India restricts POSCO to carry out any construction or related work in the project area till a direction comes in this regard.

Even though Posco is hopeful about a positive direction from NGT, the movement against the project re-gathers its strength on the ground. Because of strong protest by elders, women and children, the government has stopped land acquisition. Demolition of betel vines have stopped. But police continues to stay in the villages to have a watch on the movement against Posco’s 12 Billion USD integrated steel plant project.

Announcing that the movement is going to be much stronger than before, PPSS Chairman Abhay Sahu says, “We are ready to face any situation democratically to protect our rights to livelihood and to keep Posco away from this area.”

The dream project of Odisha government has become a nightmare for the people living in the proposed Posco project area. The conflict between Industrial development and livelihood has brought the State and people face to face. In such a situation, it may not become an easy sail either for POSCO or the protesting people to arrive at any logical conclusion.

 
 

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