When the state government sent 12 platoons of Orissa State Armed Police to Gobindpur, one of the two impregnable villages that have become the hotspots of the protests against land acquisition in Jagatsinghpur district early on February 3, it seemed the land acquisition process would be over in a jiffy.
But as the police and administration started demolishing the betelvines in the village under the cover of dense fog, they soon realised the task was not that easy. Though some villagers did want to take the compensation money and let their betelvines be demolished, the majority surely thought otherwise. As the anti-Posco villagers started protesting the onward march of police, a clash ensued.
What followed was some mindless use of force by the police who rained baton blows on the villagers, even on children and elderly women. This use of force backfired as the protests only turned louder and grabbed more attention. Two days later, with the opposition parties marching to the village demanding a stop to the “forced” acquisition and anti-Posco villagers using children for the protests, land acquisition came to a halt. And it does not look to resume any time soon.
Posco needs at least 700 acres in addition to the 2,000 acres that the government has acquired for starting construction of the steel plant, hanging fire since the past seven-and-half years over land acquisition delays, statutory clearances and iron ore mining lease. Though the administration claimed to have “peacefully acquired” 250 of the 700 acres, the use of batons has worsened the matter.
The state government should have known better as the use of force in the past ended up delaying the project. In June 2011, land acquisition was delayed after anti-Posco villagers brought their children to the forefront, frustrating police action. In December 2011, work was stopped after a person died in a clash between anti-Posco and pro-Posco groups.
Opponents of the project are also asking if the government is really that serious, why is it delaying renewing the MoU which expired in June 2010. The suspension of the project’s environment clearance last year is also yet to be revoked. Now with the Assembly session and Parliament session in sight, land acquisition may well be pushed to the backburner with political considerations taking centrestage.
Debabrata is a special correspondent based in Bhubaneswar