Posco plant could be reality soon: land ‘grab’ to resume

Administration gears up even as women threaten nude protests


Pradeep Baisakh | April 10, 2013

Women protesting land acquisition on March 7
Women protesting land acquisition on March 7

Just 250 acres of additional land is required for the district administration of Jagatsingpur of Odisha from the area earmarked for Posco’s proposed steel and power plant to complete the acquisition of 2,700 acres of land, which is needed to begin work for the plant. The administration is gearing up to resume the land acquisition in the strategic Gobindpur village, considered to be the citadel of anti-Posco movement, as the latest assembly session ended on April 6.

Also read the previous report: People vs POSCO: cost of development

The administration was able to break into the anti-Posco bastion and ‘capture’ 450 acres of land (government authorities claim to have acquired this much land) in two phases in February and March 2013. As many as 250 and 200 acres were acquired respectively in just three to four days of operation in each case. The administration preferred to take pause in the spree of acquisition process during the assembly sessions to stave off possibility of stormy debate in the house. Earlier 2,000 acres were already acquired from nearby Gadakujanga and Nuagaon panchayat.

In fact, led by the economist-prime minister Manmohan Singh, the central government seems to have distanced itself from the basic constitutional premise of the ‘sovereignty’ of people. The fast-dwindling concept of “We the people of India…” has given way to a gradual control of foreign corporates over the Indian policymaking with Singh in the saddle. Tracking the government’s manoeuvres in implementation of the Posco project, tipped to be the biggest FDI in India, would provide some glimpse of the same. The proposed plant was to have a capacity of 12 mtpa and will pump in $12 billion in investment. However, the capacity has been reduced to 8 mtpa and accordingly the land requirement was truncated from 4,000 acres to 2,700 acres.

On January 29, 2013 the South Korean knowledge and economy minister Sukwoo Hong during his visit to Agra expressed his worry about ‘tardy’ implementation of the project. To allay his fears, commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma told him that “prime minister Manmohan Singh is himself monitoring the project, which is followed by the prime minister’s office (PMO).” South Korea, it is understood, ‘categorically’ asked India to sort out the hurdle in way of the project.

The impact of the direction from the South Korean minister was felt just after four days in Gobindpur village on February 3 where police ruthlessly beat the women and children to make way for land acquisition. About 25 people were injured in the clash including children and old. Eventually on March 2 three protesters died after the blast of crude bombs in nearby Patana village.

Sumit Chakravorty, editor of the Mainstream weekly, says, “I wonder how the FDI will help in development of the country and the people. In another 20 years all the mineral resources will be gone. The way things are going, the sovereignty of the nation seems to be at stake.”

Insensitivity of Indian and foreign officials

Locals say that after the crude bomb blast on March 2 in Patana village, the incident was reported to police who were camping just one kilometre away from the spot and help was sought for ambulance; but none turned up. Prashant Paikray, the spokesperson of Posco Pratorodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), said, “Had the ambulance been brought in time two lives could have been saved as they could not be taken to the hospital in time and succumbed on the spot.”

The three deaths were not a deterrent for the state to resume land acquisition. The administration went ahead with its plan and resumed it on March 3. None of the officials however visited the families of the deceased for some days. When contacted for comment, district collector SK Mallick said, "We were on the spot today but no one came to meet us. And why would I meet the criminals? There are criminal cases against two of the people who have died!” However, the police allegedly have indiscriminately filed criminal cases against the protesters. PTI news agency reported that about 2,500 cases have been clamped against the villagers in last eight years of protest and nearly seventy cases against Abhay Sahoo, the leader of PPSS.

The ambassador of South Korea to India, Kim Joong Keun, met chief minister Naveen Patnaik on March 6 and requested him to give further push to the project. The envoy said, "If possible, I would like to see our president and your chief minister launch this mega project." He however did not say a single word about the people who died in the blast just four days before his meet with the CM.

Strategic advantage for police, PPSS on defensive

Resistance to the first phase of acquisition on February 3 continued and the use of force was widely condemned by all and sundry. Several politicians from the state capital visited and expressed solidarity with the protestors. D Raja, national secretary of the Communist Party of India (CPI), also came down to Gobindpur from New Delhi. His party has been providing leadership to the anti-Posco movement from the beginning. Despite people’s demand for the police to leave Gobindpur village, the police did not wind up its two camps where about 15-20 police personnel have been staying all the time. The rest of the force was staying near a transit camp about three kilometres away from the village.

Earlier, since Balitikira, the entry point of the village, was under the control of the villagers, police could never enter Gobindpur village in the last eight years. Last time in May 2011, when police attempted to enter the village, children lied down on hot sand at Balitikira to block their entry. The protesters clung on to the strategic location as pressure mounted severely on the administration to withdraw police force then. But this time, after capturing that strategic point and establishing camps in the village, the police never budged to the demands of leaders from opposition parties to leave the village during even the lull period taking the plea of protecting law and order in the village. Two camps still exist in the village.

The strategy and response of the political parties, particularly the CPI, seemed not to be very intense this time; unlike in May 2011 when a similar situation had arisen. Then, as some policemen strayed into the agricultural land of people to dismantle the betel vines, leaders of five-party conglomerate (CPI, CPM, Samajwadi party and Rashtriya Janata Dal and other parties) sat down on the spot where betel vines were dismantled forcing the police to return. At one point when the situation was worsening due to the continued police presence in the place, CPI leader Narayan Reddy categorically asked Patnaik to withdraw force from the area, which had moral pressure on the government as CPI was an alliance partner of the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) in the 2009 general elections. Due to the mounting pressure, police had to withdraw itself from Balitikira.

But this time, when police were acquiring land in Gobindpur, the party leadership was away in nearby Dhinkia village. The political leaders who came from Bhubaneswar would only make a superficial gesture of solidarity to people. People in Gobindpur did not get immediate support of the leadership and gave away land out of fear. The leadership came to directly confront police at the spot after four days, but by then the administration had acquired 250 acres.

Bibhu Praasad Tarai, the local MP from CPI who sided with protesters on the first day of acquisition, was not seen during the rest of the days. Clarifying on a possible alliance with BJD in 2014 general election, Tarai said, “an electoral alliance with BJD and our fight against the Posco project in Dhinkia are different matters.” But in a surprising statement, he said, “we would not mind if the project is shifted to a place just two kilometres away from Dhinkia.” Many anti-Posco activists saw this as an appeasement to Patnaik as this was not in sync with the stand of PPSS which demands complete scrapping of the project from the area.

CPI compulsions

There are electoral compulsions for CPI to resume is ties with BJD ahead of the general election in 2014. Both in 2004 and in 2009 the party had faced the situation of losing its national party status. CPI has only 4 seats in the present (15th) Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament), one of them is from Jagatsingpur district of Odisha, which it won due to alliance with the ruling BJD. Insiders of the party say “Voter base and winning a MP seat and some MLA seats from Odisha in coming elections could have significance toward the continuity of national party status of CPI.”. Importance of Odisha for CPI was reflected in its decision to hold its national executive meeting in Bhubaneswar in January 2013 where its general secretary A B Bardhan strongly hinted toward alliance with BJD in 2014 state and general (Lok Shabha) elections.

Alliance seems necessary toward strengthening the possibility of emergence of a non-Congress and non-BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) force in the national politics in 2014 general election. If Naveen is not taken into the fold of possible ‘third front’ there is possibility that he will go with its former long term ally, BJP. These are the reasons why CPI may be trying to keep Naveen in good humour.

“Even though on ground CPI supports the anti-Posco movement, over ground it has gone openly with the party which is advocating for Posco. It is sheer double standard. CPI’s strength in Odisha lies in its leadership taking up people’s issues. Preferring electoral politics over people’s interest would be counter-productive for the party in the long run,” says Basudev Mahapatra, senior journalist.

Raja of CPI evaded the question on a possible alliance with BJD. He said, “we are open to form an alliance with non-BJP and non-Congress parties, but things vary from place to place. I will have to speak to my party collages in Odisha before giving any opinion on the possibility of alliance. I do not have updated information on that.”

Questionable legal basis

The environment clearance granted to the project by the ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) was suspended by the national green tribunal (NGT), a statutory body, in March 2012. Acquiring land for the project after that is illegal, according to experts. Meanwhile, the MoU between the company and the Odisha government expired in June 2010 and has not been renewed yet. So, why acquire land?

Nude protest, the only option left?

On March 7, some women lodged a semi-nude protest against the forceful land grabbing by police. PPSS has declared that the women from three villages under Dhinkia panchayat would make a nude protest en masse in case the government resumed land acquisition with use of force.

Tanu Das, an elderly woman, says, “We are left with no other option as the government has not heeded our democratic protests and instead indiscriminately used force against us. All mothers will make a nude protest if the government dares to take away our land.” Now it depends on the central and state governments and the political parties opposing or supporting the project if they wish to protect the dignity of Indian women or succumb to the pressure of global capital!




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