Bhubaneswar, July 27 (IANS) The Orissa government Tuesday began acquiring land for the $12 billion steel project South Korean steel major POSCO has planned in the state’s Jagatsinghpur district despite opposition, officials said.
A team of district officials began the acquisition in Bhuyianpal village under Gadakunjanga Panchayat. The officials acquired two plots of land (ten decimal each) from two villagers and provided them the compensation money, additional district magistrate S.K. Choudhury told IANS.
‘It was government land which they were using for betel vine cultivation. They demolished the betel vines of their own and received the compensation of Rs.1.15 lakh each’, he said.
The Posco Pratirodha Sangram Samiti (PPSS) which has been sphereheading protests against the project, however, said the government move was illegal. ‘They are doing it violating forest right act,’ Prasant Paikray, PPSS spokesman, told IANS.
He said that the villagers are traditional forest dwellers as they depended on forest land for a living. The government cannot do this without the consent of the gram sabha (village council). ‘We will intensify our protest in a bigger way in the coming days’ he said.
A central team of the Environment and Forest, and Tribal Affairs ministries had visited several villages in the region June 24.
Ashish Kothari, one of the members, also expressed his surprise over the government step. ‘It will be illegal to acquire land until the Forest Rights Act is implemented properly,’ he told reporters.
Posco, one of the world’s biggest steel makers, signed a deal with the Orissa government in June 2005 to set up the project near the port town of Paradip by 2016.
The steel maker requires about 4,004 acres, mostly government land, for the project of which 2,900 acres are forest land. 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 an impoverished region.
There has been no progress on the ground despite the state receiving final clearance from the union forest and environment ministry for acquiring forest land for the project.