Bhubaneswar, June 22 (IANS) Thousands of villagers, including women and children, wore black badges and demonstrated Tuesday in Orissa against the government’s plan to renew its pact with South Korean Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) to set up a $12 billion project, a protest leader said.
Shouting slogans against the company and the government, the protesters held a massive meeting at Patna village in Jagatsinghpur district under the banner of POSCO Pratirodha Sangram Samiti (PPSS).
The PPSS is one of the frontal organizations which has been spearheading the campaign against the project.
‘We are against renewal of the memorandum of understanding (MOU). We want POSCO to go back. The meeting was addressed by several prominent leaders who are against displacement,’ PPSS spokesman Prasant Paikray told IANS.
The villagers have been opposing the project, saying it will displace them from their homeland and ruin their betel leaf farms. POSCO and the government maintain that the project will bring prosperity and employment to the region.
Tuesday’s protest included the leaders of PPSS, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India-Marxist, the Samajawadi Party and the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. The leaders threatened to continue their stir until the project was scrapped, he said.
POSCO had signed a memorandum of understanding June 22, 2005 for a 12 million tonne steel plant near the port town of Paradip, some 100 km from here, with an investment of $12 billion — the largest foreign direct investment in India.
The state government is likely to renew its pact, which expired Tuesday, with some modifications.
‘POSCO has written to us early this month seeking extension of the memorandum of understanding for another five years. We are examining it. The government will take the right decision at an appropriate time’ steel and mines minister Raghunath Mohanty told IANS.
‘The terms and conditions in the MOU may change,’ he said without disclosing any detail. ‘Now Ipicol (Industrial Promotion and Investments Corporation of Orissa Limited) is examining the application.’
Ipicol is the nodal agency for investment promotion in the state.
The POSCO project, scheduled to be set up by 2016, has been delayed due to various reasons, including protests by local residents against land acquisition.
The project requires about 4,004 acres, of which 2,900 acres is forest land. The state government has received final clearance from the central forest and environment ministry for acquiring the forest land.
But there has been no progress on the ground, as 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 government maintain that the project will bring prosperity and employment to an impoverished region.
‘The renewal of the MOU is the prerogative of the state government,’ POSCO-India General Manager (External Relation) Simanta Mohanty told IANS.
A senior official of the state steel and mines department said the government may ask POSCO to exclude about 300 acres from its plan.