Land acquisition in proposed POSCO area temporarily halted

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Women and children take part in a protest against land acquisition for proposed POSCO site at Gobindpur village in Jagatsinghpur district on 6th February. Photo: PTI

On 6th February the heavy deployment of police force was temporarily withdrawn from Govindpur village where land acquisition has been taking place for the last four days. But some police officials remained in make-shift camps at Mangala Pitha – a centre place in the village. Collector S K Mallick said that the administration has stalled the work for a day but will resume it from Friday. The administration has already acquired 50 acres of land. 

The pressure on the administration mounted as many children and women from Dhinkia, Patana and Govindpur villages went to the site where the betel vines were dismantled and literally slept on the sand declaring not to leave till the police stop the land acquisition process. Leaders from various political parties also accompanied the people who sat on the spot. After about three hours of protest and discussions with the administration, the Collector declared the temporary suspension. 

In the meantime D Raja, senior leader of CPI, who has been providing leadership to the anti-POSCO movement, has arrived on the spot. Abhaya Sahoo, the leader of anti-POSCO body POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), who is sitting on an indefinite fast at Patana village, however denied the possibility of ending his fast. “We do not believe the police. Today they have gone but they can come back tomorrow. Our protest will be fiercer once the central leadership arrives here”. 

As reported on 3rd February, the police forcefully entered the village to acquire land for the proposed POSCO steel and power project. 

Almost every day political parties have been visiting the site and are being assured of the withdrawal of force by the administration, which was never met. On 6th February the turn around happened understandably as a result of activism of the children and women who have been leading the protest march every day. In the third day (5th February) the children followed by women and other villagers were prevented by the police when they were marching to Govindpur. On the site the children and women fought a low pitched but prolonged battle, for about an hour, with the police, who have been instructed not to use force against them. In the battle many children received minor injuries and were seen absolutely exhausted. The shoulder badges of some police officials were also removed in the process. On the intervention of Ashok Sahu, the state vice-President of the BJP who had visited the site, both the police and the people returned to their respective places. 

On 5th February also the children slept on the sand and refused to move out. An outfit of children namely “Baji Rao Baluta Sena” has been formed by the anti-POSCO activists where the children are groomed to protect the village from the police and administration. In June 2011 in a similar situation, the children lay down on the hot sand in Balitikira, the entry point to the Dhinkia Panchayat, and did not allow the police to enter. Eventually the matter was highlighted in the media and pressure mounted on the administration from several quarters to withdraw force and the government budged. In a typical strategy, the children form the frontal barricade of the protestors followed by women, old people and then men. The police had earlier slapped several cases against the men and women which has forced the anti-POSCO body to devise such a strategy. 

During the land acquisition some employees of POSCO India were also seen on the site with the police. When asked about the presence of POSCO officials, Collector S K Mallick said “We have formed a team of officials from the district administration, IDCO and POSCO-India to carry out the operation. And we have intimated the Resident Divisional Commissioner and Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) about the composition of the team”. 

Five members from POSCO India are accompanying the administration and police to help them. S N Singh, General Manager Construction, POSCO India said “We are helping the administration in guiding them on the GPS system to determine the boundaries.” However they were seen more than just helping in GPS system. Some locals were seen approaching the POSCO officials with their grievance relating to getting compensation. 

“POSCO Company along with the government is bulldozing the voices of the people and is engaged in the evil design of acquiring land by force. The presence of the POSCO Company officials with the administration only proves this point.” says Nishikant Mohapatra, a social activist and member of Aam Admi Party (AAP).

 

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