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POSCO: 10 years attack on beetle vine and people's livelihood
Ten years on and nowhere to go is what sums up the biggest foreign direct investment prospect in India- POSCO. On June 22, 2005, POSCO - the steel major from South Korea had signed the MoU with the government of Odisha. Last 22nd it completed nine years of signing the MoU and has entered tenth year.

But, in all these years the progress on the ground has been a little at best, being more generous. Till date it neither has demanded land, iron ore reserve, water or even the permission of captive port facility. Even the MoU that it has signed with the state government has expired since long. To the contrary the groups of people opposing the project on different front are now organized and networked.

What has been achieved by all these administrative support and political and corporate machinations? It has by now got the environmental clearance for 4MTPA plant as against 12 MTPA that it had applied for. POSCO needs 2750 acres of land for the first phase of the project (that will take care of 8 MTPA production) Odisha Industrial Corporation (IDCO) has already handed over 1708 acres of land to POSCO, the insider story is that the lease process is not yet complete.

However, the official position is that the district administration has already handed over 2750 acres of land to IDCO that included 2193 acres of forest land and 558 acres of private land. Lease process for 2193 acres of forest land already has been completed and the rest land will be transferred after POSCO pays the cost of 2193 acres of land i.e. Rs 54.21 crores.

Though IDCO asked POSCO to deposit the amount in the month of January it has not yet deposited the money. So all is not well on the land acquisition front, there is something that both PSOCO and the State Government are hiding. On the other hand POSCO is yet to take possession effectively. Much of the land acquired is now under the control of the locals.

The beetle vines that the administration took so much of pain to raze to the ground are again being raised by their erstwhile owners. Pro-POSCO leader Jeebanlal Behera says, "POSCO has no intention of acquiring the land for its steel project as it is deliberately delaying the process and not ready to take land directly from the locals."

After a long 10 years wait the Odisha government has only managed to give prospecting license of Khandadhar mines for the raw material. Those in the knowing of the things say that it will take three years in the minimum to convert this prospecting license to a lease. Till the PL was awarded to POSCO by the Naveen, the battle was mostly fought on the legal arena. But, now local people, mostly the Padudi Bhuiyans, a particularly vulnerable tribal group, and other tribal communities are up against POSCO.

And their resistance is not based on perceptions or assumed damage to their environment, life and livelihood. They have live projects in the form of OMC operated iron ore mines in the catchments of Khandadhar and the impact of such mining activities on the environment and lives and livelihoods of these primitive Paudi tribes living here are too obvious for the tribals to be ignored.

The clearance for the captive Port of POSCO has been postponed and to get the clean and legal clearances for the captive port is very very difficult because indirectly the government's undertaking Paradeep Port officials and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's dear Adani group port of Paradeep (recently controversial TATA's Dhamara port transfer to Adani) authorities will oppose it for business benefits.

While there are uncertainties galore for POSCO for getting iron ore for its operations, it is not going to be less difficult for it to get water for the plant. As taking water from Naraj barrange was opposed tooth and nail by the citizens of Cuttack and the farmers in the command area of Naraj, as a changed plan the state has declared that POSCO will take water from Hansua river, which is primarily a drainage 90 kms long that also carters to the irrigation needs of the farmers. Now the resistance to the efforts of providing water to POSCO from Hansua also has started crystallizing. Leaders of different political parties have started opposing this move. An outfit in the name of Hansua Bachao Sangram Samiti is in the forefront of this resistance.

This resistance to the efforts of POSCO to draw water from Hansua has all the potential to snow ball into a huge farmer's resistance. HBSS has on 21 June 2014 staged dharna in front of Jagatsinghpur Collectorate resisting the move and has submitted a memorandum to the governor of Odisha through the District Collector. Convener of HBSS has said, "the farmers will intensify their agitation if the government does not roll back the it's decision."

POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samittee also has started interacting with these groups. Convener of HansuaBachao Sangram Samiti

Resistance or no resistance, POSCO is certain to face a major hurdle on the water front. The huge quantity of water that POSCO needs cannot be sourced from Hansua (if the use of Hansua river goes beyond construction phase) There will be severe crunch in the summer months, as Hansua is not a perennial flow, that even POSCO knows and has mentioned in its web-site. POSCO will draw water for its township from Mahanadi.

"The state government and POSCO are tight lipped about sourcing water for the plant operations. That is because it will lead to massive protests and legal battles. But resistance apart, Naraj barrage does not have enough water to meet the requirements of POSCO as already substantial quantities of water has already been committed to different industries in Paradeep like Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, Paradeep Phosphastes limited, Paradeep Port Trust and also the power plants around the barrage. But, technically speaking the farmers in the command area of the delta irrigation project have the first charge on the water of Naraj Barrage as per the water policy of Odisha. So, policy wise water can be supplied to the industrial units only after the existing command area has been satiated. The moment government comes out with the notification, the water staved tail enders will hit the streets. I do not see any hope for POSCO getting water from the barrage at Cuttack," says Tapan Padhi, a social activist who has been working on water related issues since last two decades.

While POSCO has failed to make any substantive progress in assuring land, water and iron ore for the steel plant in all these nine years, the resistance to the project has consolidated itself. Even the 52 POSCO supporters who had left their village Dhinkia alleging harassment by the anti-Posco activists have now (till date 42 families) have come back to their village after 78 long years of wait for a 'reward' and living happily. That sends a strong message to the outside world that POSCO does not care for its supporters. And now the erstwhile supporters of the project and the anti-POSCO PPSS have come closer and their voices seem to be in sync with each other on many occasions.

In these nine years the anti-POSCO movement has taken roots in other places like Khandadhar and Cuttack and drainage area of Hansua. PPSS celebrated 22nd June as a black day (being an anniversary of signing the MoU) where the villagers from Dhinkia, Govindur, Gadakujanaga, Patana, Nuagaon etc area joined and have taken the vow to 'stop POSCO at any cost.'

Gadakujanga, Patna and Nuagaon etc are the villages known as POSCO supporters, who have come out of their illusion. So anti-POSCO forces have strengthened themselves and in the process of consolidation now.

But, for POSCO it is 'Ten years on and nowhere to go.'

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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