Task force to protect land acquired for POSCO project

Bhubaneswar, Aug 10 (IANS) The administration in Orissa’s Jagatsinghpur district has been asked to form a joint task force to protect the land acquired by the state government for South Korean steel major POSCO’s $12 billion project, an official said Tuesday.

The task force comprising police, revenue and forest officials will protect the land till a final decision on the land acquisition for the project is taken, Revenue Divisional Commissioner P.K. Mohapatra told IANS.

The decision was taken in wake of reports that some people who already accepted compensation are trying to encroach on the land.

The local administration had already acquired about 1,000 acres of the land. Police have also been told to patrol the area.

The land acquisition process was stopped after the central ministry of environment and forests Aug 5 asked the state government to halt all work, including land acquisition, related to the project due to violation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA).

The ministry said its decision was based on the recommendation of a joint panel of the environment and tribal affairs ministries.

According to the panel which visited the proposed site last month, land acquisition work related to the project which started July 27 is in violation of the FRA and the conditions laid down by the environment ministry on forest clearance.

Peeved by the direction, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik the next day wrote a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his immediate intervention in the matter as the ministry order is likely to delay the project further.

The South Korean firm had signed a deal with the Orissa government in 2005 to set up the project near the port town of Paradip by 2016.

POSCO requires about 4,004 acres, mostly government land, for the project, of which 2,900 acres is forest land.

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

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