Posco: The War for Steel is Not Over


By Basudev Mahapatra, The Citizen – http://thecitizen.in/city/posco-the-war-for-steel-is-not-over/

Date of publication: 
19 February 2014

NEW DELHI:In spite of the green nod from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, Posco has not been able to go ahead with the construction of its integrated steel plant near Paradip in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur District. Conflict continues to be rampant in the project area. Apart from people who have been opposing the project since its inception, the so-called supporters are also now up in arms against Posco, alleging non-fulfilment of promises made by the company and the administration.

While showing their anger over the callousness of the district administration and the Posco authorities towards their long pending demands, hundreds of pro-Posco villagers razed a 300-meter boundary wall inside the project area at Nuagaon village near Paradip on February 16, 2014. They also set the temporary camp offices of Posco and IDCO, the government agency that facilitates industrial development, on fire. Most of the agitating villagers were erstwhile landowners who had handed their land over to Posco for the proposed integrated steel plant.

“We gave our land for the Posco project trusting the government which had promised us a proper rehabilitation package and employment to at least one member of each family. It’s more than five years since, with many families having lost their lands to Posco. These families have been waiting for some employment to earn their livelihood. The Posco project is being delayed for many reasons and we people, who have sacrificed our land and our livelihoods, are only suffering,” said Tamil Pradhan of Nuagaon, who is one of those who gave his land and who is also the leader of the pro-Posco group of villagers.

“Now after approaching all levels of administration and realising that neither the company nor the administration is serious about our rightful demands, we have serious doubt about the commitment of Posco in regard to the rights of the people and the promises it made to the people. We have all decided now that we are not going to allow the company to enter the area and start its construction work till it fulfils our demands,” Tamil added.

The six-point charter of demands kept before the RPDAC (Rehabilitation and Peripheral Development and Advisory Committee) meeting, held in 2010, included assured employment to each land-loser family; separate and enhanced prices for home, homestead and agricultural lands; monthly allowance to the landless labourers engaged in agriculture and betel-vine cultivation; and, project construction works to be done by the local people, by engaging members of the local communities.

“None of the demands were fulfilled. Even though they promised to give unemployment allowance to the youth belonging to the land-loser families, they haven’t listed anybody. Forget about allowance, we haven’t even received the compensation money against the 147 decimal of land given by us, the land where we used to raise betel vine. They demolished the vines in our absence and nobody has listened to our claims for the past two and a half years,” said Prabhat Pradhan of Nuagaon.

The company and the local administration made one promise after another in order to acquire land for the Posco plant. The government, through the district administration and its industrial development agency, IDCO, acquired 2700 acres of land required for the 8-mpta (million tonne per annum) plant. Everybody expected Posco to fulfil all the promises made to the people soon after the land acquisition. But the people’s demands have not been heeded, neither by the administration nor by the Posco authorities.

Discontent is simmering in the supporters’ camp.

On January last, a group of supporters sat in protest at Gadakujanga for more than twenty days demanding fulfilment of their demands. Nobody responded. On February 16, the pro-Posco villagers of Nuagaon showed their anger by razing the boundary wall to the ground and setting the temporary offices on fire. The villagers erected bamboo barricades at village entry points to stop the Posco people and government officials from entering the villages and the project area. Now their one point demand is – fulfil the promises before doing any further construction.

Without taking any responsibility for whatever happened in the project area, the Jagatsinghpur District Collector avoided making any comment: “We follow all decisions taken in the RPDAC meeting of 2010. Now, for other issues, let’s wait till the RPDAC meeting takes place.”

A few days back, a senior BJD leader and Health Minister in the state of Orissa, Dr. Damodar Rout, came out with an open allegation against the company and the district administration saying, “I know that a group of Posco’s Indian employees and the Jagatsinghpur District administration are misleading the people living in the proposed plant site villages.” He also alleged that “the people are not being given compensation as per the decision of the RPDAC. While some people get the maximum benefit, there are others who do not get the same.”

A senior leader of the ruling BJD and a minister in Naveen Patnaik’s cabinet making such allegations carries conviction.

So now, it’s not only the members of the opposing PPSS (Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti) who are against Posco’s proposed steel project. The supporters are also emerging as a bigger challenge to the company.

“We have been opposing the project from the beginning because we know it’s a design to grab the land and loot our resources. Now the supporters of the project have also realized that the single agenda of Posco is to acquire their fertile agricultural land and construct the boundary wall. They have started opposing the project now. We welcome the development and hope that the movement against Posco will be fiercer in the coming days,” said Prasanta Paikray, spokesperson of the anti-Posco PPSS.

It seems the war for steel is not over. Recent developments have only added to the troubles faced by Posco. Once the troubles at the site are over, the biggest hurdle before Posco would be mining at Khandadhar. Even though it might tide over the legal battle for the Khandadhar mining lease, who knows if Posco won’t have a fate similar to that of Vedanta Aluminium vis-a-vis Niyamgiri–“No” to mining in all gramsabhas?

The undeniable fact is that Khandadhar too comes under Schedule V and is inhabited by the Paudi Bhuyans, a primitive tribal group.

(Basudev Mahapatra is a Writer, TV News Producer & Documentary Maker)