Orissa villagers determined to fight Posco plant

By Mohammed Shafeeq


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Hyderabad : Residents of seven Orissa villages, some of whom attended a conclave of marginalised groups here, said they were determined to fight till the end any attempt to displace them from their land for the setting up of a steel plant in eastern India by South Korean major Posco.

The villagers of Jagatsinghpura district, who say their livelihoods are under threat from POSCO-India's proposed steel plant, are in no mood to leave the land they have been cultivating for generations.

"We will never give up our land for a project that will displace us, destroy our livelihoods and the environment," Nrusingh Behera of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, a body resisting the land acquisition, told IANS.

Nrusingh was among a group of villagers who attended the national conclave of marginalised social groups, which concluded here Thursday. The four-day conclave, organised by anti-poverty agency ActionAid, demanded an immediate halt to displacement of indigenous communities.

Villagers fear the project will destroy a vibrant agrarian and fishing economy where people grow two paddy crops a year and women often earn an income from bamboo cane and livestock rearing.

Posco, one of the world's biggest steel makers, signed a deal with the state government in June 2005 to set up the plant near the port town of Paradeep in the coastal district of Jagatsinghpur by 2016.

There has been no significant progress on the project since then due to local opposition.

"The state killed 13 tribals in Kalinganagar to take their land for a Tata project and it will have to kill 1,300 people to take our land," asserted Basu Deb Behera, a farmer and leader of the Samiti.

In Kalinganagar, over a dozen tribals were killed in police firing in January 2006 while protesting the construction of a boundary wall of a Tata Steel plant.

"Such is the resistance from people that police don't dare to enter our villages. All our villages have barricades and they are guarded round the clock," said Basu Deb.

"But the villagers are living under the shadow of fear. We can't move out freely," he added.

The leader said the government had violated all regulations while holding a mandatory public hearing in April to elicit opinion about the plant from villagers who would be affected by it. Villagers were not informed about the hearing and it was attended by outsiders brought by state authorities, he alleged.

Madhumita Ray of ActionAid said a petition would be filed in the Supreme Court challenging the manner in which the public hearing was conducted.

The Samiti, which has about 15,000 members, claims it enjoys the support of another 15,000-strong fishermen community, which fears that the captive port POSCO plans to set up at the mouth of Jatadhari river would affect their livelihood too.

"This will also destroy the ecology of the area famous for Olive Ridley turtles," Madhumita pointed out.