Paradip: The land acquisition for the Rs 52,000-crore Posco steel project, which resumed amidst tight security at Gobindpur village in Odisha's Jagatsinghpur district, continued peacefully on Monday, the state government said. Chief Secretary BK Patnaik claimed people were offering their land and betel vines on their own. "There is no violence during the land acquisition. The district administration of Jagatsinghpur and the local police have been instructed to undertake land acquisition work peacefully," he said.
"Land acquisition for the steel project is continuing in a smooth and peaceful manner. Betel-vine plantations of only those who are willing are being demolished," District Collector SK Mallick said. A section of the villagers, however, claimed they were beaten up by the police.
"At least 22 persons including 10 women and five children sustained injuries due to police excess," Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) president Abhay Sahu alleged. On-the-spot payment was being made to villagers for their betel-vines, Mallick said adding over 30 betel-vine plantations have been dismantled since Sunday and Rs 32 lakh paid by cheque.
The fresh operation, which began on Sunday, was to acquire an additional 700 acre for Posco's mega project with 2,000 acre having been acquired earlier, Additional District Magistrate Surjit Das said. Land acquisition had been halted for more than a year following violence during construction of a coastal road near the proposed project site in December, 2011.
Dija Bhoi, an 80-year-old Dalit, who earns his livelihood by working in betel vines, said he was beaten up by the police. "The police beat me up when I protested their entry to our village. If they demolish betel vines, who will give job to an old man like me"? Bhoi said.
Besides Bhoi, Basanti Dalai, Sakhi Bardhan and 13-year-old Jagannath Das were allegedly beaten up by the police. They were sitting on a dharna on Sunday when police used baton to chase them away. "Though a small group of policemen is present at the village, over 200 armed personnel were strategically kept in the nearby jungle. We demand their shifting from there," said Manorama Khuntia, a leader of the PPSS women wing.
Making his party's stand clear on the Posco issue, state Congress President Niranjan Patnaik said "we are not opposed to the project. But the manner in which police excess is going on is shocking. How can an elected government allow police to attack women and children?"
Activists of CPI(ML), DSO and some other civil rights groups staged demonstrations in the state capital protesting alleged police excess at Gobindpur village. SK Mallick, however, claimed the land acquisition was being undertaken with consent and cooperation of the local people. "A handful of people are opposed to the project", he said.
Paradip MLA and Health Minister Damodar Rout also claimed there was no pressure on the people to part with their land. "Those who oppose the project are outsiders and they have nothing to lose in the process," Rout said.