MANOJ KAR, The Telegraph, Calcutta
Paradip, Feb 2: Makeshift bamboo gates are back in villages that lie on the site for the proposed Posco project. Registering their protest against conditional clearance accorded to the Posco project, villagers today erected barrier gates at six places in Jagatsinghpur district’s Dhinkia gram panchayat, which falls in the steel plant’s area.
Pro-plant activists and government officials, however, said areas where villagers are for the project — in Gadakujang and Nuagaon gram panchayat — there would be little hurdle before the steel plant.
Yesterday, protesters participating in a rally had vowed to stop government officials, police and Posco personnel from gaining access to the villages earmarked for the steel plant.
“This is our final phase of resistance against the South Korean steel project. People here will call off the movement only if the government shifts the project from this fertile land,” said Sisir Kumar Mahapatra, a prominent anti-plant leader and sarpanch of Dhinkia gram panchayat.
Pro-plant activists, however, pooh-poohed the protests. “It’s nothing but a publicity stunt. They will in no way stop the land acquisition process for the steel project,” said Anadi Charan Rout, president, United Action Committee (UAC), a pro-plant outfit.
“They may have erected gates at various places of Dhinkia. But they have failed to erect gates in major project areas. Claims made by them yesterday that the entire area would be sealed have been proved false. They have failed to build gates at Gadakujang and Nuagaon gram panchayat, which constitute the major chunk of the project area,” Rout said.
Anti-plant activists, on the other hand, said the Union ministry’s conditional clearance had only caused the anti-plant protesters’ support base to expand. “The protest is a spontaneous display of people’s protest against the Union environment and forest ministry’s environmental clearance to the Posco project. Our support base has been widening after the Union ministry’s arbitrary decision. Places like Noliasahi and Nuagaon will be sealed by bamboo gate barriers soon,” said Abhaya Sahu, the president of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, the body that has been spearheading the agitation against the Posco plant for the past five years.
Round-the-clock watch and vigil by lathi-wielding villagers that had become familiar sights ever since the steel maker inked an MoU with the Orissa government on June 22, 2005, have re-appeared.
Villagers have begun customary gong-beating to remind villagers to stay alert and stop “intruders” from entering their villages.
Gates are back at the two points of entry leading to Dhinkia, the nerve-centre of the anti-Posco movement. Besides the two, four more gates have come up at Patana and Gobindapur villages, Sahu said. The villages would now remain out of bounds for government officials, Posco personnel and police, he added.
Villagers on the scene are jittery over the new scenario.
“We are worried. We are afraid that peace will be disrupted,” said Nityananda Sahu of Dhinkia village.
Nrusingha Charan Swain, special land acquisition officer for the Posco steel project, said: “We have not received any instruction to resume land acquisition in the project areas. So, putting up gates to stop officials defies logic.”
He added that the last time, land acquisition process at Noliasahi, which falls in Gadakujang gram panchayat, was stopped following directions from top government officials.
“We have learnt that there are no bamboo gate barriers there. So, if the land acquisition process were to start, there would be no hindrance at least in Noliasahi village.”
Land acquisition had been halted at the Posco site on August 6 last year.