Following is a release issued by the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samithi on Sunday:
Balitutha, Orissa: The threat of state and company sponsored violence looms large over hundreds of farmers sitting on an indefinite dharna at Balitutha in Jagatsinghpur district against the Orissa government’s pet POSCO steel project.
Since 26 January this year the farmers have been carrying out their peaceful protest against fresh attempts by the Naveen Patnaik regime to acquire their land on behalf of the South Korean steel corporation.
“We are expecting police action any time soon including an attack on our leader Abhay Sahoo by goons hired by the company,” said a spokesperson of the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samithi (PPSS), which has spearheaded the agitation against the project for the past five years.
Over 30,000 farmers are expected to lose their lands and livelihood if the US$12 billion project, billed as India’s largest Foreign Direct Investment, is implemented. POSCO signed an MoU with the Orissa government in mid-2005, for the setting up of an integrated steel and power plant, a private port and mining of over 600 million tonnes of Orissa’s high grade iron ore.
For the steel and power plants alone the project needs around 4004 acres, of which 3566 acres is government owned forest and revenue land but 438 acres belongs to local farmers who are refusing to part with it. The PPSS apprehends that over 25 platoons of police are being brought in to surround the farmers sitting on dharna at Balitutha, which is at the entrance to the land that belongs to them.
As per a letter issued by the Collector of Jagatsinghpur District on January 19 this year Palli Sabhas in the project area have been asked to obtain approval of local bodies about the ‘diversion of their lands under forest category to POSCO’ by February 10th. On February 3 however, at a meeting of Palli Sabha of Nuagaon village all the 700 participants unanimously disapproved of the move. In a resolution passed at the Palli Sabha they said that such lands were being used by people for cultivation and housing since last 300 years and in no case they can be handed over to POSCO. Other Palli Sabhas in the area are expected to pass similar resolutions.
PPSS activists say, faced with the firm opposition to the POSCO project and land acquisition the Orissa adminstration is getting desperate and plans to remove the farmers by force. On February 1 the state government issued a notice in various newspapers that if the people fail to file their claims for compensation within fifteen days, they will get nothing at all.
The PPSS dharna has found support around the country with leaders of trade unions and people’s movements visiting the protestors sitting on dharna. Those participating in the dharna include leaders of leaders of the All India Trade Union Congress from different states and the Orissa Bidi Workers and Domestic Workers Associations.
For further information contact:
Prashant Paikray, spokesperson, PPSS at Ph: (0) 9437571547.