Anti-Posco protests continue; supporters want demands met

Indo Asian News Service

Bhubaneswar, June 27 (IANS) A few thousand people, including women and children, continued their protest against South Korean major Posco's proposed steel plant in a village in Orissa's Jagatsinghpur district Monday while in another nearby village supporters of the mega project demonstrated to get their demands met.

The protests in Govindpur village, continuing for the past two weeks, and in Polang village were a study in contrast.

The administration Monday re-deployed hundreds of policemen near Govindpur where thousands of villagers have formed a human barricade against land acquisition for the project.

In Polang village, hundreds of villagers protested construction of a boundary wall that was started last week on the land the administration had acquired.

The people, supporting the project, rushed to the site and prevented officials from continuing work, saying the government has to meet their demands first.

Tamil Pradhan, a pro-Posco leader, said his group had asked the government to meet six demands on their charter, including involving locals in the construction work.

He said work at the site was being carried out by those who do not belong to the area.

'The work has been stopped temporarily. We are speaking to them,' Additional District Magistrate S.K. Choudhuri told IANS.

He said the work of cutting trees and levelling the land in other parts of the acquired site was unaffected.

In Govindpur, the police force was withdrawn from the area later in the day after protests by villagers.

The people got a moral boost when Jual Oram, state unit chief of the Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), visited the protest site and extended his solidarity to them.

'It is unfortunate that the government has been trying to destroy a sustainable agrarian economy at the cost of a steel project,' Oram, who has been opposing the project from the beginning, said addressing the villagers.

He accused the government led by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik of using the four Cs principle to push the project. 'The state first tried to Convince the people. When it failed, it tried to Confuse them, later it even tried to Corrupt them. Now it is going all out to Crush them,' he said.

Although villagers fear the deployment of force at the site was aimed at quelling their protest, officials said the policemen had been stationed to maintain law and order because some land has been acquired in the past near the protest site.

Orissa signed a pact with the South Korean steel major in 2005 for the $12 billion steel-port-power complex near port town of Paradip, about 120 km from here, the largest foreign investment in India.

At least 2,900 acres of the total land required for the project is forest land. Authorities said villagers have encroached upon large patch of the forest land illegally and they need to be vacated.

Protesters said they have been holding the lands for generations and once the land is acquired, they will lose their agro-based sustainable livelihood.

The government, which halted land acquisition June 14 in the troubled area after protests, said it is now focusing on the area already acquired.