Naveen Patnaik meets anti-POSCO leaders

Bhubaneswar, June 13 (IANS) For the first time, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik Sunday held talks with a group opposed to a steel project by South Korean steel major POSCO in the state.

The crucial meeting, which may help the government push forward the project, delayed by more than three years, took place in the secretariat here and lasted more than an hour.

‘As per today’s situation, the meeting with the chief minister was a success,’ Abhaya Sahu, who led a four-member group, told reporters after the meeting.

‘We also requested him to visit the area to know the ground situation which he agreed,’ he added.

Patnaik said he discussed with the protesters the importance of the survey and asked them to co-operate with the administration.

‘They assured me that the survey work will continue in the area and continue peacefully. They requested me to visit the area. I will visit the area at an appropriate time. Let the survey work be complete,’ Patnaik told reporters.

When asked if there was any discussion to move the project from the existing site, Patnaik said there was no discussion on the matter.

POSCO, one of the world’s biggest steel makers, signed a deal with the government in June 2005 to set up the project near the port town of Paradip in Jagatsinghpur, some 100 km from here, by 2016.

The steel maker requires about 4,004 acre land for the project, of which 2,900 acre are forests. The project has been delayed for over three years due to various reasons, including protests by locals.

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 final clearance from the union environment and forests ministry for acquiring land for the project.

Patnaik last month held a meeting with elected representatives of the area and offered to talk to the anti-POSCO protesters.

The anti-POSCO leaders have held several rounds of dialogue with the local administration officials in the past, without any result.

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