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
“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.