The Orissa government on Saturday deferred land acquisition for the proposed mega steel project of Posco till Monday, as pressure mounted on it for withdrawal of armed policemen from three gram panchayats in Jagatsinghpur district.

The authorities announced the postponement owing to bad weather, hours before social activist Swami Agnivesh visited Gobindpur to express solidarity with the agitating villagers who have formed a human barricade at the entry point to their village, with children and women at the vanguard.

Addressing the villagers who have been opposing the land acquisition and demanding the shifting of the project to any other location, Swami Agnivesh said the impasse could be ended through talks between the State government and the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti. He urged Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to visit the villages and talk to the people who opposed the project to save their land and sources of livelihood. Forcible land acquisition should be stopped forthwith.

Expressing concern at the Centre's clearance for Posco to set up a captive port close to the site chosen for the steel plant, the Swami said he would take up the controversy with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh.

A team of senior Congress leaders of the State also visited Gobindpur to express solidarity with the agitators. They also condemned forcible land acquisition.

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and many prominent anti-displacement activists will visit Gonindpur over the next few days.

In Bhubaneswar, many activists took part in a dharna during the day against the forcible land acquisition. Activists of the Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) staged a demonstration demanding that the land acquisition by use of force be halted immediately.

Growing criticism

The State government has been facing growing criticism as it is going ahead with the exercise though it was not able to renew the memorandum of understanding signed with Posco in June 2005, which expired in June last year.