Virbhadra Singh throws the ball in Posco’s court

Posco was nudged by the central government to settle for a smaller land parcel than the 4,004 acres it had bargained for with the Orissa government. Steel minister Virbhadra Singh told reporters in Delhi that he had told Posco India chief Chung Joon-yang to be “generous to the tribal people as they are very much attached to their land.”

Recently Orissa CM Navin Patnaik said his government will ask Posco to forego their right for 300 acres of non-government land, inhabited by three villages, who are agitating against the 12 million tonne steel project.

Singh said he has given a similar advice to LN Mittal-led ArcelorMittal, too, which is battling a similar problem in Bokaro in Jharkhand. “There must be an assessment whether what they are asking for is actually required. Now it is no longer necessary to acquire that much of land,” the minister said.

He added he supported the position that land more than required, should not be acquired, referring to changes in technology and plant design.

He, however, admitted that big-ticket steel plants, worth Rs 1.5 lakh crore of Posco and ArcelorMittal, had remained stuck for nearly five years in Orissa and Jharkhand due to land acquisition hurdles.
On the ground, the anti-Posco agitation gathered steam with the Posco Pratirodha Sangram Samiti (PPSS), backed by the Left, refusing to bite the Orissa government’s 300 acres bait. “We want the Posco project to be shifted from here,” said Abhaya Sahu, chief of PPSS, the outfit which is spearheading the resistance movement against the Posco’s plant at Jagatsinghpur district. “Any displacement is not acceptable to us,” Sahu said.

“No compensation will match the fertile land of the three gram panchayats—Dhinkia, Nuagoan and Gobindapur, which comprise the core of Posco’s project in Orissa.”

The Posco spokesperson, Simanta Mohanty, refused to comment on the Orissa government’s decision to clip the project site, saying, “there is no official communique to us.” Company sources, however, said that Posco is ready to part with 300 acres at Dhinkia mauza. In Delhi, Singh said the delay in steel projects was related to the governments of Orissa and Jharkhand but that his “ministry is in constant touch” with them.

The issue needs to be resolved by striking a balance between the “welfare of the tribals and the genuine land requirement by investors,” Singh said.

Anti-Posco groups want CM Naveen Patnaik to visit the Posco site and see for himself the prosperity of the area before having any dialogue with resistance leaders. On the state government stand that there were no claimants under the Forest Right Act, Sahu said, “We have claim receipts of villagers, the district administration cannot defraud the people.”

Even though the environment ministry has accorded forest clearance for the 2,900 acres forest land that falls in the 4,004 acre Posco site, the state government has to settle the forest dwellers before handing over the forest area to the company.

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