Shrugging off mounting opposition from the local people and objections from the Joint Committee under the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which is overseeing the implementation of the Forest Right Act (FRA), the Orissa government on Tuesday began the land acquisition process for the proposed Posco-India steel project in Jagatsinghpur district.

Revenue officials, flanked by a horde of police personnel, made the first real attempt to acquire land five years after the State government inked a Memorandum of Understanding with South Korean steel major Posco.

“We started spot verifications of details of the survey conducted in June. Two people from the Gadakujang gram panchayat expressed their willingness to accept compensation, which was revised recently,” the Additional District Magistrate of Paradip, Saroj Kant Choudhury, told TheHindu.

The locations of betel vines were documented using the Global Positioning System; the vines were subsequently removed in the presence of the owner and witnesses and the place was demarcated as ‘acquired.' The administration paid Rs.1.15 lakh to the displaced person, Mr. Choudhury said.

Posco-India initially estimated a requirement of 4,004 acres to set up a 12 million tonne per annum-capacity plant near Paradip. The State government was under the impression that since a major chunk of the land was government owned, the project would face little resistance. However, local protests grew over the years and the administration could not even conduct a socio-economic survey for the project. The survey got over recently.

“We have constituted four teams under the tehsildars of Kujang and Ersama, who will go around the villages and try to vacate land by giving adequate compensation. We are trying to complete the acquisition within one month,” Mr. Choudhury said.

The land acquisition was initiated despite the Joint Committee on the FRA saying that forest land could not be diverted for other uses without completing the FRA processes.

‘Violation of norms'

At a press conference here on Tuesday, Asish Kothari, committee member, said the move to acquire land in the Posco area without the settlement of rights under the FRA was a violation of norms.

“We will submit a brief report on FRA implementation in the Posco area within two-three days with the Ministry of Environment and Forests. It is up to the Ministry to take appropriate action,” Mr. Kothari said.

Reacting sharply to the district administration's move, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti spokesperson Prasant Paikray said: “It is a forcible land acquisition. We will fight the administration tooth and nail. Without settlement of any rights, they have all of a sudden started the acquisition. We condemn the action. The administration should be held responsible if any law and order situation arises in wake of the villagers' protests from now on.”