Ready to resist

Published : Mar 11, 2011 00:00 IST

Villagers of Dhinkia in Jagatsinghpur are preparing for an all-out battle to defeat attempts to implement the Posco project.

in Dhinkia

VISITORS to Dhinkia in Jagatsinghpur district in Orissa are stopped at the barricades at its entry points. Villagers have been guarding them 24x7 since February 1, a day after the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) granted conditional clearances for Posco's 12-million-tonne steel plant in the area. Having agitated for five years against the project, they are in no mood to relent; no government official, police personnel or Posco employee can expect to get past the bamboo fences.

Residents of the coastal hamlets in Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujang are all set to resist democratically a fresh move by the Naveen Patnaik government to resume land acquisition which had been withheld for some time now for the proposed mega project that threatens to snatch their homes and livelihoods. The protest is peaceful, but the place resembles a war zone. It is a war between the people and, as they say, a pro-corporate government.

The villagers have been opposing displacement since July 2005, when the Patnaik government signed a memorandum of understanding with the South Korean steelmaker to establish a steel-cum-captive power plant and a minor port in their locality. The government has held no meaningful discussion with them though thousands of people have come together under the banner of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) led by Abhay Sahu, a Communist Party of India leader.

Last June, a group of PPSS activists met the Chief Minister at his office in Bhubaneswar on the latter's invitation. But Patnaik did not keep his promise to visit the villages coming under the site earmarked for the project to find out the reasons for the agitation. Worse still, after the MoEF announced its go-ahead for the steel plant and port projects, he reportedly said there was no possibility of his visiting Dhinkia in the near future.

The villagers' opposition to the project is not without good reason. Numerous creeks, narrow water channels and ponds meant for prawn cultivation dot the Dhinkia landscape. There is hardly a place where there is no cultivation in the freshwater zone just two and a half kilometres from the Bay of Bengal coast, towards the south of Paradip town. People here now fear that the State government will make serious efforts to displace them in its efforts to facilitate the implementation of Posco's projects. Suresh Kumar Dash, who has four betel vineyards, has not gone out of Dhinkia panchayat limits since the agitation against Posco began in 2005. An active member of the PPSS, he has a number of cases registered against him and he fears he will be arrested outside the village.

The betel vines he has grown on forest land adjacent to the village help Dash fend for his family of six. He also employs at least 50 labourers a month at a daily wage of Rs.250 each. They come from neighbouring villages. Truckloads of betel leaves are taken out of Dhinkia to distant places across the country every day.

Most people in Dhinkia grow betel leaves or coconut, cultivate rice twice a year (kharif and rabi crops), do fishing, or rear cows and buffaloes for a living. Papaya, cashew, banana and vegetables are aplenty in the village.

We have been living here peacefully. Can we live this way in a resettlement colony if we are displaced? asks Jyotirmayee Satpathy, a 23-year-old girl in Patana hamlet in Dhinkia panchayat. Her mother runs a betel shop at her house in the heart of the village.

Jyotirmayee's father, who was the village priest, died two years ago. The three-member family, which includes her mother and brother, 18, does not own any agricultural land. The boy now has taken up his father's vocation and supplements the family income. Jyotirmayee also rears goats.

She justifies her opposition to the project by saying that a number of families that got displaced a few years ago for an oil refinery project near Paradip had became daily wage labourers. These people were now coming to work in the fields or betel vineyards in their hamlet, she said.

The Naveen Patnaik government is now planning to use force to displace hundreds of people from their homes. But we will not allow the destruction of Dhinkia gram panchayat's agrarian economy and will not part with our land, homes and sources of livelihood at any cost, said Abhay Sahu.

Sahu was arrested on October 12, 2008, and was in jail until August 14, 2009. Out on bail, he is determined to take the fight to its logical end.

Raju Swain, 31, from Patana is a key activist of the PPSS. He has nearly 25 cases against him for being involved in the anti-Posco agitation. We are virtually under house arrest. I have not gone outside the Dhinkia area as I apprehend arrest in one of these cases, he said.

Nevertheless, the villagers are prepared for another round of agitation. On February 13, the State's Director General of Police Manmohan Praharaj, along with Chairman-cum-Managing Director of Orissa Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO) Priyabrata Patnaik, visited some areas close to the site selected for the Posco project. They covered a few kilometres from the port town of Paradip towards the proposed Posco site on a kuchha road. Apparently, IDCO has plans to construct connecting roads from Paradip to the proposed steel mill and captive port of Posco. The joint visit of the DGP and the IDCO CMD clearly shows that the government is forcing us to be at war with it, said Sahu.

A day after the duo's visit, more than 150 villagers from Dhinkia and nearby gram panchayats dug up the sandy road the officials took at nearly 15 places. This confirmed the determination of Sahu to intensify the agitation in the coming months.

Outside Dhinkia too, the Posco project has many hurdles to cross: opposition to the supply of water for the steel plant from the Mahanadi river and to the handing over of the Khandadhar iron ore reserve to Posco. The matter pertaining to the grant of prospecting licence for the Khandadhar mines in favour of Posco is before the Supreme Court. The State government had, in fact, moved the apex court challenging an order of the Orissa High Court, which set aside its decision to recommend to the Centre grant of licence to Posco. The High Court order was passed on a petition filed by an Indian company that was one of the applicants for the prospecting licence.

As regards the plans of the PPSS to intensify its ongoing agitation, Sahu said it had already started coordinating with other people's movements in different regions of the State and outside. Anti-Posco solidarity fronts have already been formed in different cities of the country to extend moral support to our agitation, he said.

We will resist peacefully. Also, we don't plan go to court against the decision of the Naveen Patnaik government to tell a bundle of lies to the Central government and the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests with the sole aim to obtain various clearances for Posco, said Sahu.

He is equally critical of Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh for giving the green signal to the Posco project.

He [Jairam Ramesh] broke the laws by going against the reports of the committees that had been set up by the Central government itself, he said.

Many non-governmental organisations too are preparing to challenge the Orissa government's stand on the implementation of the Forest Rights Act in the Posco project area.

But Sahu said forest rights was not the issue the PPSS was concerned with. Our agitation not to hand over our homes, land and other sources of livelihood started much before the FRA came up for implementation, he said.

Sahu said there was no government mechanism at that time to facilitate the filing of petitions by the people that they be given rights over the forest land they claim to be dependent on or are cultivating.

About the State government's claim that its policy on resettlement and rehabilitation was one of the best in the country, and the company's claim that it would provide the best resettlement and rehabilitation package to the people facing displacement, Sahu said the PPSS had long ago rejected the R&R policy of the State government.

The writing is on the wall in Dhinkia. The people here are ready to resist displacement no matter what clearances Posco obtains from the Central or State governments for its project.

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