6 years ago, exactly on this day of June 22nd, the Govt. of Odisha signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the steel manufacturing giant POSCO for a Rs 51000 crore investment for a steel plant in the district of Jagatsinghpur. This project is still the biggest FDI of India. After a rule under former chief minister Janaki Ballav Pattnaik (of Congress, now rehabilitated as Governor of Assam after retirement) during which the state saw negative growth and became a place most unsuitable for industrialization (even if most of the country’s mineral lies under the soil of Odisha), such projects brought rays of hope for the people of Odisha. The state’s economy was in shambles and projects by companies like POSCO, TATA, Arcellor-Mittal were expected to boost its economy. Unfortunately, not a single of these big projects has moved an inch since the day the MoUs were signed.
Being the biggest FDI of the country, the center was also genuinely interested in having this project. Irrespective of the views of the state congress leaders the PMO pushed for the project. Yet POSCO had to face resistance from the villagers who protest the acquisition of land in the area. It also faced charges of violating forest rights act and after many years, the forest clearance was finally given by minister Jairam Ramesh. While the environmental issues are already settled, the problem of land acquisition has come to the fore. The state govt. after getting the requisite forest clearance moved ahead with the acquisition of the 4004 acres of land required by the South Korean company for the plant. Protests by villagers of one village using women and children as human shields has hit the national and international headlines. Govt. is on the back foot and has decided to stop the acquisition process. After 6 years, it is already too late. People of Odisha who were once ecstatic about the POSCO steel plant are now disgusted the way it is being resisted. It is time for the unawares as well as the anti-POSCO protesters to confront the realities of the POSCO plant and related issues. Being from Odisha, I hope I can present the facts well.
* The POSCO plant was allocated to the 4004 acres of land in Jagatsinghpur because these area had least private land. Of the 4004 acres, almost 3500 acres of land are govt. land. While the real owners of the lands have welcomed the plant and left their lands for the greater good of the state, the villagers encroaching the govt lands by farming betel on it are creating ruckus.
* The allegations of POSCO violating the forest rights act(passed in 2006, after the MoU signed) is baseless. It is alleged that the plant violates the clause 2(o) that declares that all those living on forest land for at least three generations (75 years), as well as forest dwelling scheduled tribes, have rights under the Act to use the land under occupation and/or cultivation. Around 3000 acres of the land marked for the plant are classified as the forest land(even though there is no forest on that land. How come betel is being farmed on that land if there exists a forest there?). But as per documents, the land was classified as forest land in the 1950s, so no chance of people living there for 75 years/3 generations.
* While the world wants to believe that the protests are voluntary ones by the villagers, the reality is different. One Abhay Sahoo, who doesn’t belong to the affected area came from nowhere and started leading this campaign. Why the villagers weren’t given a chance to decide their own fate? Why an outsider leader was needed to instigate the locals of that area?
* Political opportunism is the only adhesive that binds the political parties. This is true for the POSCO project. Have you ever seen Left, Congress and the BJP supporting same cause anywhere else? Well they are on the same page in case of POSCO agitation.
* Of all the villages that will get displaced by the project, every village except 2 support and welcome the investment. Only Dhinkia and Gobindpur are the two villages where the majority are not in favor of POSCO.
* The land activists may shout about their democratic rights. Then why they threw the pro-POSCO villagers out of their villages? Didn’t they have any right?
* The leaders who lead the dissented villagers never gave constructive suggestions to the govt. while discussions. They rejected a unique and the best rehabilitation policy laid by the govt without even giving the suggestions like what more they want. Why I call the rehabilitation and compensation package as the best in the country, you will know that when I mention some of its features in the next realities
*POSCO compensation package: Posco would pay the betel vine owners Rs 11.5 lakh per acre. The labourers working in the betel vines would get 20% of the compensation awarded to the owners.
*POSCO compensation package: POSCO would pay Rs 17 lakh per acre of agricultural land and Rs 2 lakh per acre used for prawn ponds.
* POSCO compensation package: The people who have encroached the govt. land would also get the compensation.
*POSCO compensation package: Labourers working in betel vines will get unemployment allowance of Rs 2,250 a month for a year, in case they don’t get work during the steel plant construction.
* POSCO compensation package: Each of the displaced undivided families would get 10 decimals land on which POSCO would build a three-bedroom house with a cowshed. Each displaced family would also be provided Rs 5,000 as transport cost.
* POSCO compensation package: Adult members of the families would be treated as a SEPARATE family and given 10 decimals of land each.
* POSCO compensation package: A member from each family would get a REGULAR job in the plant. if not, allowance of Rs 2300 per month as unemployment allowance.
* If this compensation package is anti-poor, then perhaps no package can ever satisfy the protesters. May be because the leaders of the protest have their on vested political interest to fuel the dissent against the govt.
* While everyone is keen to comparing the Gobindpur or Dhinkia with Nandigram and Singur, the reality is that the state has not used force yet. The govt. has done commendable job to secure peace in the area by keeping the police and the ruling party cadre in limit.
People should check realities first before jumping to conclusion. Odisha has lost so much in last 50 years even if it has so much natural resources with it. Dear Medha, Gurudas, Agnivesh, D Raja and all outsourced leaders, please don’t dismantle the industrialization process which has been peaceful so far. We are a slow progressing state; don’t make us a ZERO progressing state. And dear protesters at the protest site, please send your children to the schools instead of bringing them to form human rings to confront with the police. Do you also want them to rot in poverty like you?