Uncertainty over restart of Posco land acquisition

Last Updated: Sat, Feb 09, 2013 05:09 hrs

Uncertainty looms over resumption of land acquisition process for the Posco project as the state government seems to be dragging its feet over the matter.

Says, Satya Kumar Mallick, district collector, Jagatsinghpur, "there is uncertainty in resuming land acquisition at Gobindpur village in Posco project site as the district administration has not yet received go-ahead signal from the state government. After getting clearance, we will start land acquisition process immediately."

The land acquisition at trouble-torn Gobindpur was started on Sunday with a heavy cordon of police forces before being stopped temporarily on Wednesday following stiff resistance from the supporters of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), an anti-Posco outfit.

Citing fatigue of the security personnel as the cause for taking a break, the district administration had announced a two-day halt to the operation and withdrawn police from the area. It had hoped to resume work from Friday.

But with tension still simmering at the project site, sources said, the state government is dithering over resuming the operation as it fears any untoward incident, particularly involving women and children, who have been strategically put at the front of a human barricade by PPSS to block the entry of officials and police at Gobindpur, may draw flak from the opposition partires in the forthcoming budget session of the assembly scheduled to start from February 14.

Besides, the wide criticism of the civil society groups on the use of force for land acquisition, beeline of anti-displacement leaders like D Raja of CPI and Swami Agnivesh to the project site and possible political fallout of their outcry in the coming elections in the state has put the government on the back foot, observers pointed out.

Irked by the government's vacillating stand, the pro-Posco villagers of Gobindpur have vowed not to cooperate with the administration in the land acquisition process. "It is high time to expedite the process as villagers were willing to hand over their land in the face of weakening stranglehold of PPSS. Now we have vowed not to cooperate with the government as it has suspended the land acquisition drive bowing to the pressure of anti-Posco activists," said Prafulla Mohanty, a project supporter of Gobindpur.

Sources said, if the state government fails to acquired land for the project at the earliest, it may face difficult to buy land from the villagers as the new Land Acquisition Bill, which is likely to be tabled in the ensuing budget session of the Pariament after being cleared by the Union Cabinet, prescribes for consent of at least 70 per cent of the affected people for land acquisition.

Of the 4,004 acres required for Posco's 12-million-tonne (mt) steel plant, the government has so far acquired 2,000 acres. The company has made it clear it could start first phase work for 8 million tonne steel capacity, if it was provided 2,700 acres. The government planned to acquire another 700 acres at Gobindpur village to facilitate start work on the project.

Posco hopeful

Posco India, in a statement, said it is hopeful to soon get the required land for the first stage 8 MTPA steel plant and start of land preparation work.

"As per the information received from the concerned government authorities, over a period four days from last Sunday, a total of 50 betel vines were demolished in Govindpur area wherein the betel vine owners had given voluntary consent for dismantling of their vines and accepted the compensation cheques from the authorities. We understand it will take some days for the completion of the clearance of the required land. We are happy that the land clearance process has resumed again and hope that it will get completed smoothly with the support of the villagers, without any further halt or obstruction," said POSCO India Chairman and Managing Director, Yong Won Yoon.

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