Ever since the South Korean steel major signed a memorandum of understanding with the Odisha government in June 2005, the project had been facing opposition over land acquisition issues.
“We have acquired 2,700 acres required for the first phase of the Posco project. The land will soon be handed over to Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation of Odisha (Idco), which will pass it on to the company,” said Surjit Das, additional district magistrate, Paradip. The first phase envisages eight million tonnes of steel capacity.
On the last day of the current phase of land acquisition drive, the administration demolished 26 betel vines and paid about Rs 41 lakh as compensation to the affected farmers.
With this, the total number of betel vines dismantled to facilitate the project has reached 1,062 and the total compensation paid stands at Rs 20 crore (Rs 18 crore for betel vines and Rs 2 crore for various fruit-bearing trees on the acquired land).
Sources said the district administration had acquired 2,858 acres at the project site. Of this, 2,700 acres would be given to Posco, while the rest of the land would be earmarked for establishment of ancillary industries.
No compensation has been paid towards land, as these vines and trees were planted by the villagers on the government land. In fact, of the 4,004 acres originally asked for by Posco in three panchayats of Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujang (near the port town of Paradip), only 438 acres were private land. The Odisha High Court has stayed buying of private land for the project while hearing a public interest suit on the matter.
Following stiff resistance to the land acquisition process by the local people, Posco had altered its project plan and decided to set up an eight-million-tonne capacity in the first phase, if it was provided 2,700 acres of contiguous land patch. The company said it would increase the capacity to the originally envisaged 12 mt when it was provided the rest of its land requirement.
Despite completion of land acquisition for the first phase, sources said, it would take some time before the South Korean company can start work on the project. The environment clearance of the project has been suspended by the National Green Tribunal (NGT), which has asked the environment and forest ministry to revalidate the clearance. Posco could not start work until NGT lifted the suspension order, sources added.
“Pending clean chit from NGT, we will go for trench digging and other preparatory work for boundary-wall construction,” pointed out a senior official. Similarly, the Odisha government has not signed a fresh pact with the company after its MoU expired in June 2010. Also, the mines ministry has yet to take a call on granting it prospecting licence for Khadadhar iron ore mines after the Supreme Court upheld the state government's recommendations on this.
Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), which has been spearheading agitation against the project, condemned the actions of the district officials, alleging the demolition of betel vines was done forcibly at gunpoint.
“We will continue our fight against the project and illegal demolition of betel vines. Many anti-Posco activists have vowed not to receive the compensation,” said Sisir Mohapatra, a senior PPSS leader. Bhabani Sankar Mishra, a sub-divisional police officer, Paradip, said the police had so far filed 155 cases related to clashes between the project’s supports and opponents. Non-bailable warrants had been executed against 1,440 accused people, while five people had been killed in the clashes, he added.