Anti-Posco brigade holds black day

Date of publication: 
23 June 2013

Bhubaneswar/ Kendrapada: While the state government said the MoU with Posco for a steel plant in Jagatsinghpur would be renewed within a month, the anti-Posco brigade on Saturday observed the eighth anniversary of inking of the deal as ‘black day’.

Supporters of four Left-wing political parties, CPI (ML), SUCI (C), CPI (ML) Liberation and CPI (ML) Liberation New Democracy, took out a rally in the capital city, demanding scrapping of the project. Posco Pratirodh Jan Sangharsh Manch (PPJSM) and several women organisations also joined the protest. The PPJSM members, who had been sitting on a dharna, opposing the project, at Lower PMG here since May 15, also ended their stir.

The protestors wore black badges and burnt effigies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Gananath Patra, advisor to Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, questioned the rationale behind ‘favouring’ a company by ignoring the CAG report, Green Tribunal order and court recommendations.

In Jagatsinghpur, where the mega steel project is proposed, several anti-Posco organizations led by Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) staged a protest at the plant site with a ‘Gobindapur Chalo’ slogan. Braving incessant rain and bad weather, around 1,500 villagers marched from Dhinkia to Patana. Many villagers also hoisted black flags atop their houses.

Addressing a meeting, CPI MP from West Bengal Prabobh Panda criticized the government for kowtowing before the multi-national company’s ‘anti-people’ terms to establish a steel plant near Paradip. He urged the villagers to oppose any move of the government to acquire their fertile land for Posco.

Jagatsinghpur collector S K Mallick said there was no law and order problem at the Posco site. “Like every year, they observed black day and held a rally,” he said, adding, “The land acquisition process has been temporarily suspended after acquisition of over 2,600 acre for the project.”

General secretary of PPSS Sishir Mohapatra demanded the government not to renew the MoU. The state government had signed an MoU with Posco on June 22, 2005, to set up a steel plant in Jagatsinghpur district at an estimated cost of 12 billion US dollars. Its validity expired in 2010.

Official sources said the process to ink a fresh pact with the steel behemoth is nearing completion and could go for the chief minister’s approval within a month. The new MoU could be a tripartite agreement involving the state government, Posco and its Indian subsidiary Posco-India, sources said.

The project has in recent weeks got a boost with the state government acquiring almost the requisite land for beginning first phase work, the Supreme Court asking the Centre to decide on giving preferential access to Posco for the Khandadhar iron ore reserves and an expert committee of the ministry of environment and forests recommending revalidation of environment clearance granted in 2007 to the company.


Locked land of Posco

Priya Ranjan Sahu, Hindustan Times –

23 June 2013

Gobindpur, Odisha – It’s been an eight-year-long uneven battle between betel vines and a steel plant. And steel hasn’t won yet.

For, eight villages in coastal Odisha’s Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujanga gram panchayats in Jagatsingpur district, about 150 km east of state capital Bhubaneswar, have put up a stiff resistance against South Korean steel major Posco’s proposed Rs.52,000-crore project.

The reason: It will take away their traditional source of income — betel vines.

Posco signed a deal with the state government for acquiring 4,004 acres (one acre=43,560 square feet) for the project. But the site of the project — backed by the single-largest foreign investment in India — virtually has nothing except some prefabricated site offices in a hurriedly fenced-off piece of vacant land.

The telltale signs of the battle are strewn everywhere in the area earmarked for the project — felled trees, destroyed betel vines and hostile villagers, who have been fighting with the state to protect their vines.

Popular resistance and environmental clearance have made it difficult for the state to push through the 12-million-tonnes a year green-field project, which should have gone on stream by 2011.

Of the 4,004 acres, about 3,000 acres is forestland. And more than 5,000 betel vines dot the sandy landscape in this forestland, each generating an average assured income of R20,000 a month.

Two years ago, the administration had to suspend land acquisition after hundreds of women and children blocked the entry point to the vines near the Gobindpur-Nuagaon border in scorching summer.

In February this year, the administration took a step forward by resuming the process in Gobindpur. Though the state considers dismantling about 300 betel vines in three months to be some success, the drive seems to have lost steam by the end of May.

“They are coming like thieves in the wee hours and trying to dismantle vines before we wake up and protest. We have re-erected several vines dismantled by them,” said villager Tuna Baral.

But the administration is being careful. “Land acquisition continues peacefully. We are trying to convince people to part with their vines and accept compensation,” SK Mallick, collector of Jagatsinghpur, told HT.

The project has split the village community, with a group called the United Action Committee (UAC) — having some influence in Nuagaon — supporting Posco. But that has not helped matters. Today, Nuagaon is a picture of despair, with villagers having exhausted their compensation and are left with no means to sustain themselves.

Kabindra Rout, a betel farmer, said, “The administration dismantled my betel vine in 2011 and I got a compensation of R2.28 lakh. But now I am jobless.”

Many who earlier used to own betel vines and could employ others have now been reduced to daily wage-earners in the vines in Dhinkia, the stronghold of the anti-Posco movement, which the police have not been able to enter during the past eight years.

On June 7, after meeting chief minister Naveen Patnaik, Posco India chairman and managing director Young-Won Yoon said, “We are hopeful the land will be handed over to us soon.”

But ‘soon’ may prove to be far off — or even a delusion — as the 20,000-odd residents of the eight villages are showing no signs of retreating from their betel vines.