MAC: Mines and Communities

Naveen Reluctant To Use Force To Acquire Land For Posco Project Pmo Steps Up Pressure

Published by MAC on 2007-04-16
Source: Financial Express ()

Naveen reluctant to use force to acquire land for Posco project PMO steps up pressure; meeting with Orissa CM this week DILIP

Financial Ezpress

16th April 2007

BHUBANESWAR: Even as the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is piloting South Korean steel major Posco's $12 billion project in Orissa—the biggest foreign direct investment—with great fervour, the state government is in a bind, as it is under tremendous pressure to make way for the grounding of the project near the port town of Paradip in Jagatsinghpur district.

The fate of the 12 million tonne Posco steel project is hanging in balance for over a year as the government is finding it difficult to acquire the required land because of violent resistance by locals facing displacement. Badly bitten by the Kalinganagar and Nandigram incidents, the Orissa government is in no mood to use force for land acquisition.

Realising that the project is not moving as per schedule (it is already delayed by six months) Posco's top executives are impatient and have started giving signals of withdrawing. Posco, which signed an MoU with the state government on June 22, 2005, is yet to take possession of even an inch of land at the proposed site.

Fearing that the FDI may fly away from the country, the PMO has intensified its monitoring of the project's progress. Last month, the PMO had a meeting with Orissa chief secretary, Ajit Tripathy, and elicited a promise that land acquisition would be completed in three months. The PMO has called a meeting with chief minister Naveen Patnaik on April 19, next.

Goaded by the Centre, the Orissa government has, of late, initiated measures to acquire land for the project risking its political popularity. The government has mobilised the police force on site to put pressure on the resistance movement.

Last week, there was a face off between the police and activists of the movement.

Apprehending that the police and 'hired goons of Posco' might swoop down on their villages for forcible eviction, the anti-Posco activists have reinforced their check gates that prevent entry of government officials into the site. The cadres of Navnirman Samiti, the organisation that is spearheading the movement, have already held preparatory meetings in Nuagoan, Gadaakujanga and Dhinkia, the villages that will be affected by the project. ''We are prepared to face bullets, because we will not forsake our source of livelihood for the steel plant'', over 10,000 women resolved last Sunday.

Meanwhile, Navanirman Samiti spokesperson, Akhyaya Kumar, has urged the government not to create situation that will lead to incidents like Kalinganagar and Nandigram.

The resistance movement got a shot-in-the-arm with former chief minister and leader of the Opposition, JB Patnaik, rallying behind them. Patnaik said last week that he would oppose acquisition of agricultural land. He cautioned the government against forcible displacement of people.

State police director-general, Amarananda Patanik, however, said that force would not be used to evict people from the project site. ''We will try our best to convince the villagers to make way for the project'', he says.

Orissa steel and mines minister, Padmanabha Behera, also said that problems would be sorted out through dialogue. The Jagatsingpur district administration has been engaged in negotiations with anti-Posco activists. He clarified that the police force has been deployed 15 km from the site with a view to maintaining law and order.

Given the tone of its spokespersons, the Naveen Patnaik government is unlikely to use 'real' force to evict villagers, despite the UPA government pursuing the Posco project with great zeal.

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