Villagers on dharna at Balitutha teargassed, lathicharged
BHUBANESWAR: About 100 people were injured when police fired rubber bullets and teargas shells, and lathi-charged hundreds of villagers in Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa on Saturday afternoon to help the administration acquire land for the steel project of Posco-India.
The police took action after the villagers did not respond to their orders to move away from Balitutha, the main entry point to the site earmarked for the 12 million tonne steel mill of the South Korean company.
Hundreds of villagers from Dhinkia and nearby villages had been staging a dharna on the road at Balitutha since January 26 this year in their resolve to prevent the entry of administration and Posco officials to the site chosen for the steel project.
Earlier in the day, the police clamped Section 144 of Cr.PC and declared the assembly illegal. Action against the agitators started around 2 p.m.
Speaking to The Hindu over phone, spokesperson of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti Prashant Paikray alleged that the police and administration officials acted like workers of Posco and mercilessly beat up the villagers, including many women.
“As many as 15 persons, including five women, were arrested by the police from the spot,” he said.
“At least 100 people were injured. Two persons who were seriously injured were identified as Natha Swain of Nuagaon village and Ramesh Das of Dhinkia,” Mr. Paikray said.
The temporary structure under which the villagers had been sitting on dharna for the past four months was also burnt down by the police, he added.
The police claimed that four of their men were injured when some anti-Posco activists allegedly hurled some crude bombs at them.
Earlier, Communist Party of India Lok Sabha member Bibhu Tarai was arrested for trying to reach the dharna site at Balitutha. The former Congress legislator Umesh Swain was also taken into custody while trying to proceed to the dharna venue.
Mr. Paikray said the people of Dhinkia and nearby villages who had returned home were apprehending further police action against them as a large posse of armed policemen were still camping in the area.
Meanwhile, CPI workers and supporters staged demonstrations in Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Chhatrapur and other places condemning the arrest of the party MP and police action against the people opposing the Posco project.
The opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party also condemned the police action. The government should have held a formal dialogue with the agitating villagers before using the police to remove the road blockade, the leaders of the Opposition parties said.
Posco had signed the memorandum of understanding with the State government for setting up a steel plant in June 2005. But the project has been facing inordinate delay with a majority of locals not willing to hand over their land for the venture.