Bardhan demands shifting POSCO steel plant site

Bhubaneswar, May 21 (IANS) The agitation over the $12 billion steel project by South Korean steel major POSCO in Orissa seemed nowhere near its end Friday with the Communist Party of India demanding a change in the location of the greenfield plant.

‘We want the whole project to be shifted from the area identified near Paradip,’ said CPI general secretary A.B. Bardhan, a day after the state government decided to ask Posco to exclude around 300 acres of private land from the site earmarked for the plant in Jagatsinghpur district.

‘Giving up only 300 acres of private land cannot be a solution,’ Bardhan told reporters here, demanding a white paper from the government on the project.

‘The government should come out with a white paper on the cost of the project in terms of land… cost of the water people will be deprived of, what is the status of the forest land,’ he said.

Bardhan also criticized the government for not settling the forest land in favour of the local villagers who have been living their since generations.

‘It is a matter of surprise that the government is claiming those lands as government land,’ he said.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik Thursday held a meeting with elected representatives of the area and offered to talk to the anti-POSCO leaders if necessary.

Patnaik also announced that the government will ask the company not to insist on acquiring private land of about 300 acres for its plant especially in Dhinkia – one of the several villages where the project is facing popular protest.

Patnaik’s proposals were, however, rejected by the leaders opposed to the project.

POSCO had signed a deal with the state government in June 2005 to set up the project by 2016.

The steel maker requires about 4,004 acres for the project, of which 2,900 acres is forest land and more then 400 acres are private land. The project has been delayed for over three years due to various reasons, including protests by local residents.

Thousands of villagers have been protesting the project, saying it will displace them from their homeland and ruin their betel-leaf farms. POSCO and the government maintain the project will bring prosperity and employment to the region.

There has been no progress on the ground despite the state receiving clearance from the central forest and environment ministry for acquiring forest land for the project.

The latest trouble began when police baton-charged and fired rubber bullets on hundreds of protesters May 15 after they refused to vacate a road at Balitutha, the entry point to the proposed site that was blocked since Jan 26 to prevent the entry of government and company officials into the area.

At least nine people, including six policemen, were injured in the clash.

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