Revolution in South Asia

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Ground Zero at Anti-POSCO Struggle in Orissa

Posted by Ka Frank on February 10, 2010

Villagers man check gate at Jagatsingpur to keep out POSCO and government officials

This article appeared in the Financial Express on February 07, 2010

Anti-Posco Struggle: Ground Zero

From Bhubaneswar, it takes us five hours to reach Patna village, at the heart of Posco-India’s planned 12-million tonne steel plant. We find children playing with pebbles, but they aren’t at an innocuous game—they arrange tiny stones across the road when they see an approaching vehicle, imitating elders who routinely put up road blockades or gates to prevent entry of unknown vehicles. Patna falls within the core area of the proposed 4,004 acre plant site, and villagers, who are against the project, keep round-the-clock vigil on the movement of outsiders.

Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik may have assured South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak that the land acquisition process for the $12-billion plant in Orissa’s Jagatsinghpur district will be speeded up, but at Ground Zero, things don’t look so easy. Posco-India still doesn’t have an inch of land, though the final forest clearance camethrough in December, on the eve of Lee’s visit to India as chief guest for Republic Day. Of the 4,004 acres identified for the project, 2,958.79 acres is forestland.

He was keen to visit the Posco site, but was told the ground situation wasn’t conducive. There’s stiff resistance to the project from locals, but Posco-India and the Orissa government is hoping to win over the opposition with the promise of a better rehabilitation and resettlement policy.

“The resettlement and rehabilitation package of Posco-India for the plant at Jagatsinghpur is in line with the Orissa government’s R&R Rules 2006, which is regarded as one of the best R&R policies in the country,” says Posco-India General Manager (external relations) Simanta Mohanty. “We are confident that everybody in our project area will be at an advantage with our package. Our package is specially oriented towards landless labour and we have made special provisions for employment of those needing jobs. We are compensating those who have planted betel vines on government land and we are sure they willsee that we are giving them a fair deal,” he adds. Over the past three months, the Patnaik government, too, has given a push to the land acquisition process, but villagers will need a lot of convincing before they give up their land.

In neighbouring Govindpur, children play cricket, imagining the ball to be Posco-India. Every time a batsman hits the ball hard, a cheer goes up. The villagers of Govindpur are quite militant in their opposition to the project, considered to be the country’s largest FDI.

Four years of agitation have changed the lives of villagers living in Posco’s proposed site. For villagers, guarding the gates has become a daily chore. All their discussions revolve around the Posco project. Womenfolk do their household work, but with an eye on the main street for Posco executives or government officials. Posco officials are often detained for a few hours by villagers.

The two villages of Govindpur and Dhinkia are at the heart of the site and this is where the dictates of the Posco Pratirodha Sangaram Samiti (PPSS), the organisation that is spearheading the anti-project movement, runs. PPSS has virtually converted the 4,004 acres into a fort, with 17 gates plugging all the roads to the core area. No gates open without the permission of PPSS. The PPSS chief, Abhaya Sahoo, guards the main gate at Balitutha, the entry point to the Posco site. The PPSS network is quite strong. When government officials or Posco company executives start from Bhubaneswar for Jagatsinghpur, Sahoo gets the information, and villagers are alerted immediately.

With the forest clearance coming through, and Lee’s visit putting the project onto the fast track, the Jagatsinghpur Collector has put out ads asking betel vine owners to claim compensation and give up the land. Interestingly, the 4,004 acres is part of a vast stretch of land that was added to the mainland when the sea receded, so the landscape is dotted with huge sand mounds. The government says the reclaimed land is government land but people have lived here for generations.

Over the years, the forests too have disappeared—first the mangroves and then the casuarina plantations, destroyed by a super cyclone. Now, villagers grow betel vines and cashew on the high lands and have converted the low laying areas to paddy fields. “The paddy field gives us rice for the whole year and the betel vines the cash to buy other items,” says Ramesh Mohanty. “We will not allow the Posco project to come up on this site,” says PPSS chief Abhaya Sahoo. “No rehabilitation and resettlement (R&R) policy is acceptable to us,” he points out.

When you argue that Posco-India has promised to give a better package than the R&R package announced by the state government, Dhinkia sarpanch Sisira Mohapatra, who is also the general secretary of PPSS, shows you the R&R package of Indian Oil Corporation (IOC) for the oustees of Paradip Refinery project. A vacant plot of seven acres, earmarked with concrete pillars outside village Dhinka, is the so-called rehabilitation colony. The abandoned, dilapidated facility centre (hospitals, schools and temples) isn’t assuring villagers.

“We have seen the R&R package of a public sector company. How do we trust a foreign private company?” Mohapatra shoots back. The stories of promises not kept and the success of people’s movements like the anti-missile test range agitation of Baliapal have kept the resistance against Posco alive. But the Orissa government too has made a heap of promises to Posco-India which it will find very difficult to walk away from.

One Response to “Ground Zero at Anti-POSCO Struggle in Orissa”

  1. Voice of Dhinkia said

    Hello Everybody,

    I will start narrating from the point what had been the current situation.

    There are several links over the web that says that people of the proposed steel plant area are being constantly suffered due to POSCO-India. You just need to type “Abhaya Sahu POSCO” to get a page full of links over the web narrating good dadi maa stories of suferrings of the common people due to POSCO (Mighty Steel plant). However the inside story of the proposed steel plant area will tell something else.There are numerous number of incidents that will tell how people are being suffered under the leadership of Mr. Abhaya Sahu and not the proposed steel plant i.e POSCO . Mr. Abaya Sahu might have succeeded in convincing the poor ones to revolt against the mighty steel plant, but he didn’t understand how they are going to suffer by doing so. Its being 5yrs for the revolution and a common man of that area is now begging to get his life back which he use to live before that. Now the people have understood how they are suffering in co-operating Mr. Abhaya Sahu. Earlier on thousands of people use to gather for a discussion regarding opposing the steel plant (These discussion use to happen twice a week). Several people use to suggest several opinions. There were many good points/bad points shared in those meetings. Some of the good points that were shared not to construct the steel plant are the following:

    * “We will tell the Government that we people are just farmers and we are going to suffer the most if the POSCO steel plant happened to be built here. This is going to affect severely to our livelihood. ”
    * “We are 450 families located here. Only 10% of these families are educated. So 90% of us are not qualified enough to get a job anywhere if we are dislocated from our land.”
    * “The environment we use to live in is just perfect for our livelihood. We have the sea along with the jungle surrounding us providing the coolest environment. The soil we use to cultivate our rice crops produces sufficient amount of output to live a year for a family. Can Government relocate us to exact similar place having all these facilities?”
    * “Even if only 10% are educated, they were getting free education in our village school. Will Government provide our children yet another school to get free education?”

    The points mentioned above are among those , which are being raised by the common people of Dhinkia to put in front of Government. But some people took this as a opportunity to earn some handsome amount of money. Some people were very much interest to put some twist in the demands of these people.One person who lured these people to suggests, who convinced them to stand against this mighty steel plant is none other than Mr. Abhaya Sahu. Its none other than Mr. Abhaya Sahu who has decided to become the kingpin of this master plan. So for these he picked of some ten numbers of people from the crowd suggesting them that these people will pass on the plans among the villagers he is going to make to oppose the steel plant. Slowly and gradually the points raised by the villagers are modified by Mr. Abhaya Sahu as the following:

    * “We will not go to the Government. We will also not allow any Government officials to enter into this area and hamper our freedom.”
    * “If the Government will use force then we are ready to reply them. We are not afraid to take law into our hands.”
    * “Each member of a family is going to stand against the POSCO- steel plant i.e. age no barriers.”
    * “Government officials will be severely punished if they dare to enter this area. We will be constructing several gates to prevent the Government officials to do so.”

    So, as you see how this person have transformed the simple demands of the villagers to challenging ones in the means of their freedom. People were unaware of the fact that this was just the start of the violence that is being built up in Mr. Abhaya Sahu’s mind. The 10 people whom he had picked up from the crowd has helped him in convincing the crowd that these points were sensible, however it was not. Once the crowd agreed, these points were put in front of the Government making a headline i.e. “ANDOLAN” (Villagers were unaware of this fact.) Few days later a meeting was held where it was decided to make it happen (the points mentioned).

    Several Government officials have been beaten up when they tried to convince the people. People use to guard the gates day and night hence preventing themselves from their work i.e cultivation and farming. As meetings were held twice a week, it was repeatedly told to the people that Government is not interested to look after your pain. Mr. Abhaya Sahu said, “The Government has become very greedy after seeing the estimated cost of the project. So he will not look after you. But we will not sit idle. We will guard the gates and continue the andolan. You people are like my brothers and sisters and I am with you until this project is moved. People not co-operating my brothers and sisters in this andolan will be severely punished. My dear brothers and sisters, this andolan has already made headlines both nationally and internationally. People are ready to help us from all corners of the world. We just need to continue this by any means. Don’t. worry, this Abhaya Sahu will always stand beside you”. The above speech is one among the hundred speeches of Mr. Abahay Sahu. So, one can see how the simple demands of the people has turned into a violence between Government and villagers just because of this political minded person.

    Impact of the speeches of Mr. Abhaya Sahu

    These speeches have started creating rift between the villagers. Some people tried to become honest to Abhaya Babu (Mr. Abhaya Sahu is addressed with this respect by this villagers.) by showing how loyal are they in performing the andolan and others are not and vice versa. Slowly the meetings that are being held in discussion regarding opposing steel plant has taken a new form. It has become the local judgment court under the authority of Mr. Abhaya Sahu. He started making decision regarding the punishments/compensations for the culprit (villagers found guilty are termed so in this court.) In the meanwhile, some people started understanding the plan of this person and made up their mind to convince other people so. But before they could do so a new rule defined in that court i.e. “Person supporting POSCO will not be a part of this village. He will not get any facilities from the village. We will not let that family to have to grocery from our village vendors. No child will be educated from our village school. He will not communicate to any villagers. If any villagers dare to do so then he will be punished and will pay a compensation fee of at least Rs.500.” Hence persons opting out to help co-villagers were prevented in the name of supporting POSCO and are forced to being hated by other villagers. Other than this, road blocking, not allowing government officials to construct new roads, not allowing electric officials to provide electricity started becoming one of the chapters of the most hyped book called “ANDOLAN”. During this period a new company called DHARITRI had started land drezing work some 5kms from dhinkia for IOCL. Youth of our village decided to approach the company for any job offers. Fortunately 40 youths of our village were engaged in that company. However this joy of the youths could last only for a month. These youths were severely beaten up by their parents for taking part in the Andolan. And this time it is not required for me to mention who was behind the backstage. Mr. Abhaya Sahu has requested DHARITRI not to engage any of our villagers as he was afraid of losing the strength of the andolan. Presently no villagers except Mr. Abhaya Sahu’s son is recruited by the DHARITRI company with a handsome salary of 5.4lacs per annum. Stories of people supporting the steel plant will be breathtaking for every humanity in this very world. A family has been looted and beaten up for supporting this steel plant in our village. Hundreds of villagers under the guidance of Mr. Abhaya Sahu had looted that family. Even the milk of a 3 month old baby was kicked out. The male members of that house had to bear a number of cut marks in several parts of their body. The eldest person of the family aging 90 was not spared too in that incident. The person enjoying the show was Mr. Abhaya Sahu in some 100 meter distance. Finally this brutality stopped when the person aging 90 begged for his families life by leaning down before Mr. Abhaya Sahu’s feet. In recent past the news that made headlines in every newspaper and TV channels is the achievement of Police/Government in crossing the “Laxman Rekha” drawn by the villagers. Five people have been arrested in that incident. They have been charged for several cases. No one considered that the persons arrested were all aged above 60yrs. No one understood how much fear these people have in their eyes regarding their leader. If anyone questions me that why these persons cant have an FIR lodged against the most wanted person then I can only say that “They will not”. Who is going to protect them after that? Not a single person has forgot what had happened to a family (The incident is mentioned above. This type of incidents has taken twice. The other victim has his house burnt by the villagers). Is the Government ready to protect his family? If so then how soon he will take action ? Five years have passed on and the Government is yet to visit the area. How can we come front to complain against the person ? Who will give the guarantee that this Abhaya Sahu may not create any problem for my family? These are the number of questions that comes into ones mind that are preventing them to take some step.Tears will dry up in the eyes of humanity if all the heartbreaking incidents will be narrated that had taken place in these 5yrs.

    No one sees what a person has gained in these five years. That person (Mr. Abhaya Sahu) at some time traveling with a cycle of his own has started scheduling all his trip through flight now a days. Having no earnings he has managed to admit both of his sons to one of the most renowned university of the state (KIIT). He might be earning crores of rupees from human right commission in the name of this Andolan. POSCO rehabilitation is the best one provided in the history of any foreign countries of India. One person of every family will get a guaranteed job in the steel plant. Their sons and daughters will be facilitated with schools. A common man will have access to free hospitality. But who will pass these message to the villagers.

    I am one of those among the crowd. We are a group of 150 families. We would request the Government to arrest (We have already mentioned several reasons earlier that we can’t lodge a FIR against him. So please consider this email as an FIR against Mr. Abhaya Sahu. ). Please do take necessary actions against him and lets sit down to talk regarding the proposed steel plant. Our demands are still simple as mentioned earlier in this mail. We have decided to pass our message to the Government of India in this manner. We respect the Government and we hope we will get the same in return.

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