At gun point, the Government of Odisha is determined to deal with any hurdle in the way of land acquisition for South Korean Steel major POSCO’s 12 million tonne Steel Plant project in the eco-sensitive coastal plains of Jagatsinghpur. Land, water, livelihoods, the environment and the future are at stake in Odisha…
The area mapped for the integrated steel plant project by South Korean steel major POSCO has become a war zone. When women from families adversely affected by Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) attempted to register their protest on the road near Paradeep in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur, they were beaten up by the police. Three protesters died in a bomb explosion in Patana village in the proposed POSCO project area. The villages of Govindpur, Dhinkia and Patana are now surrounded by police so that the POSCO dream of the Government of Odisha and the Indian Government can be realised unhindered. In fact, the Odisha Government restarted its land acquisition operations aggressively less than a week after the South Korean Minister of Knowledge Economy Sukwoo Hong categorically asked India to sort out the hurdles in the way of the POSCO project. On 3 February, 2013, the Odisha Government initiated its last ditch effort to acquire land for POSCO after a lapse of nearly a year-and-a-half. In a pre-dawn operation, 12 platoons of armed policemen swooped down on Govindpur village, the last frontier in the long-drawn battle. They beat the people and raided their houses. This was done in Dhinkia village too. It was a move designed to send out the message that the Naveen Patnaik Government means business this time. The police brutality lasted for several hours, and finally, the village of Govindpur came under the control of the Government. Soon after, with a police force in attendance there was demolition of betel vines and acquisition of land. This area has turned into an armed police camp and except pro-POSCO goons, no one can enter the village and no one can get out. Police patrolling continues for 24 hours.
While the District Collector of Jagatsinghpur, Satya Kumar Mallick, repeatedly says that the acquisition of land is being pursued with the consent from people as per the norms approved by the Rehabilitation and Periphery Development Advisory Committee (RPDAC), the realities on the ground are completely different. The police continues to stay in the villages to keep a watch on the movement against POSCO’s 12 billion USD integrated steel plant project.
Doesn’t matter if it is lawful or unlawful. At gun point, the Government of Odisha is determined to deal with any hurdle in the way of land acquisition for South Korean Steel major POSCO’s 12 million tonne Steel Plant project in the eco-sensitive coastal plains of Jagatsinghpur. On the other end, people are ready to face any situation democratically to protect their rights to livelihood and to keep POSCO away from their area.
What About 52 Families?
Another new controversy has arisen after an official declaration that there will be no land acquisitions in Patana and Dhinkia village for the POSCO project. A severe reaction came from the residents of the POSCO transit camp after the district administration’s announcement that it has no plans to acquire land in Patana, which would mean that they would not get any compensation or other benefits. Fifty two families driven out of Patana village by anti-POSCO activists six years ago and housed at the POSCO transit colony are living in fear after refusing to sign a petition addressed to the Jagatsinghpur SP seeking police protection. A senior POSCO official returned empty-handed after the residents of the colony refused to sign a petition seeking armed police deployment in Patana village. The residents now fear that they could be thrown out of the colony for their refusal to sign the petition.
Chandan Mohanty, head of the POSCO transit camp colony asked, “Why should we sign the petition seeking protection when we have not been living in the village for six years now ?” Mystery still shrouds the bomb explosion in Patana recently and no one is sure if it was an act of revenge by the pro-POSCO group or an accident while anti-POSCO activists were making bombs, Mohanty pointed out.
Renu Pradha, says “We did not get police protection when we were being tortured, harassed and assaulted by anti-POSCO people. Where were the administration, police and the Government in the last six years, when we were begging for securities? To help and support the Government’s FDI dream – a nightmare for us we lost everything but what have the Government, district administration, police and above all POSCO done for us in last six years? The basic necessities of life like good sanitation, drinking water and home are distant dream for us.”
Strongly condemning the attempt by POSCO to collect signatures from the people living in the transit camp, President of the Bhitamati Suraksha Mancha Jayanta Biswal said, “The company people have no business going around seeking signatures of people for police protection. They had done the same earlier and even forged signatures to get police deployment in Govindpur village.”
The concerned POSCO official refused to comment on the issue while the district administration denied any knowledge of the visit of the POSCO official to the transit colony. Surjit Das, ADM Paradip, said, “We have no information about it. But we have received a representation from the villagers of Patana seeking police protection.” These fifty two families are the first pro-POSCO villagers displaced by the administration.
Crores Of Rupees Ready For Kick-Back
Gone is the euphoria of 2005 when Odisha proudly bagged the much hyped Rs. 52 thousand crore POSCO steel project. The project was slated to come up near the port town of Paradip. The Odisha Government signed a MoU with POSCO on June 22, 2005 for the 12 MTPA integrated steel plant. In the same year, a subsidiary ‘POSCO India Pvt. Ltd.’ was registered and applied for prospective mining licences for three areas from where it was to source 20 million tones of iron ore annually to feed the plant.
The most pertinent factor in favour of POSCO is its next generation steel making technology which is called the Finex process. POSCO has already signed two MoUs with SAIL- one in 2007 to collaborate in operational exercises and the other in 2010 to form a joint venture to set up a steel plant in the country using POSCO’s patented Finex technology.
The technique of production plays a crucial role in generating profit. Generally two techniques are available for steel production — one is Corex technology (conventional blast furnace method) and the other is Finex technology. Iron ore lumps and coke are used for producing steel in the Corex method. And low grade iron ore fines (the size of iron ore is up to 12 M.M) and non-cooking coal ( low grade coal) is used for producing steel in the Finex method.
Finex technology was jointly invented by Simex Austria and POSCO Korea and they have patented it. With the use of Finex technology, both operational and capital cost is comparatively 30 per cent cheaper than Corex technology. To produce steel in Odisha, POSCO has declared that they will use Finex technology.
In contrast, in Odisha, Mittal will use Corex technology to produce 12 million tonnes steel per annum and the project investment cost is Rs. 40,000 crores ( as per the MoU signed with the Government of Odisha). By using the same Corex technology, TATA will invest Rs. 15,400 crores for producing 7 million tonnes steel annually, Jindal will invest Rs. 13,135 crores for 6 million tonnes production and Sterilite will invest Rs. 12,500 crores for 5 million tonnes steel production. POSCO will earn crores in foreign money as profit within a few years by using Finex technology, will be ready to spend for political party leaders, police, administrative officials and goons – at the cost of all those who are suffering because of forcible acquisition of land.
Why POSCO? The answers are : to gobble up our land, to drink our water, to bring devastation to the environment and our future, to kill our self generated agricultural economy, and to loot our natural resources. In return POSCO will get huge foreign monetary profits, says Tapan Padhee, Odisha’s renowned water management expert. According to him, any land acquisition needs to have a ‘public purpose’. As of now what is the public purpose for which the land is being acquired in the proposed POSCO area? The State Government says that it can acquire land. But how far is this claim legally tenable ? The POSCO project does not have environmental clearance. Now, not having an environmental clearance means that the project is not environmentally viable in that particular area, it might be in some other area. And unless and until a project has the environmental clearance, legally it can’t be set up. And in this context if the land is being acquired, it suo moto means that environmental stipulations may be given a go by to see to it that the project comes up. Does it not mean that environmental clearance is just an eye wash, it can move any way depending on the need of the hour – the State is proving it. And the third factor is the iron ore mining. Khandadhar mines, from which POSCO is to get the iron ore, are being vied for by many parties and the case is still pending in the Supreme Court of India. No MoU, no mines and no environmental clearance – and still the Government of Odisha is bent on acquire land for POSCO at any cost.
Water will be another stumbling block for POSCO. The farmers of Cuttack, Kendrapada and Jagatsinghur will be at loggerheads with the State and POSCO once it is declared for sure that POSCO plant is coming up and it will take water from Naraj Barrage. Off take of water from Naraj will adversely affect the irrigation in its command area as POSCO will be drawing as high as 110.376 million cubic meters of water. The command area of Naraj is already starved of water. Over and above this both Cuttack and Bhubaneswar are dependent on this barrage. IOCL is set to take water from here. Paradeep Port as well as industrial hub is dependent on this barrage as well. Naraj just being a barrage, with the substantial reduced flow of water in Mahanadi during the non-monsoon months is in no way going to meet all these demands. The only saving grace for POSCO is its phased expansion. As at the beginning it will need water for only 4MTA, the immediate impact on water users of Naraj will be less. And gradually the water withdrawal will be enhanced. The alternative proposal of creating a reservoir on a branch river is not viable either. So in a nut shell one can say that water for POSCO will be as big a stumbling block as land and iron ore. But for now, land is the issue and water has taken a back seat.
Any attempt to take water from the barrage for POSCO is bound to be heavily contested by the farmers and city dwellers alike, and it will snowball into a huge resistance involving large tracts and a huge population. It will not be a confined battle for the Odisha Government or POSCO, as it is in Dhinkia.