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Explained | Why land for another steel plant in Odisha is making news

People of Dhinkia village of Jagatsinghpur district are seen on the entrance point of their village as they blocked for the outsiders as police forces and other government officials rushing for the land acquisition as now-a-days Odisha Government planned to settle JSW (Jindal Steel Works) plants on the replace of earlier POSCO steel plant.

The story so far:

On January 14, Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district administration used 12 platoons of armed police personnel to facilitate the demolition of betel vineyards so that all 3,000 acres of land can be cleared for the establishment of a mega steel project proposed by industrialist Sajjan Jindal-led JSW Group near the port town of Paradip. Residents of Dhinkia village – the epicentre of the anti-steel plant movement – have opposed the demolition bid.

Lathi-wielding police personnel tried to disperse agitating villagers. It led to a violent clash that left 30 villagers and three police personnel injured. The visuals served as a flashback to villagers resisting land acquisition for another steel project proposed by South Korean steel major POSCO at the same place a decade-and-a-half ago. That POSCO project was shelved.

Why is the location contested?

On June 22, 2005, the Odisha government signed a memorandum of understanding with POSCO India Limited – a wholly owned subsidiary of South Korean steel major POSCO – for setting up of a 12 million tonne per annum capacity steel plant near Paradip at an estimated cost of ₹52,000 crore. The project was to come up on about 4,000 acres of land in three gram panchayats of Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujanga in Jagatsinghpur district. The project was then dubbed as India’s single largest foreign direct investment.

Villagers, however, opposed the land acquisition bid saying they had a sustainable livelihood source in the shape of lucrative betel leaf farming, fishing and paddy cultivation. They asserted the industrial project would destroy their livelihood. Although POSCO trimmed down its land requirement and revisited its project components, the resistance to land acquisition continued. Land acquisition moved at a slow pace, with the government managing to acquire some 2,700 acres of land and felled 1,70,000 trees.

When POSCO could not get a captive iron ore mine for their steel project in Sundargarh district and the subsequent auction route of allocating mines closed doors for securing automatic control over a mine, the company decided to withdraw in 2017. The acquired land was brought under a “land bank” scheme launched by Odisha to provide encumbrance-free land to industries.

The State government decided to provide 2,900 acres of land to JSW Group for setting up a 10 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) steel plant in Jagatsinghpur district in 2017. The project was revised again. The JSW Group came up with proposal to set up 13.2 mtpa capacity steel plant at an estimated investment of around ₹55,000 crore on the land acquired previously for the stillborn POSCO unit. Apart from the steel project, a 900 mw captive power plant and a 10 mtpa cement grinding and mixing unit were part of the project.

Why have the protests resumed?

The State government believed that there would be no resistance since Dhinkia village had been excluded from the project while inhabitants of the rest of the affected villages had been taken on board.

A total 2,950.31 acres (2,677.80 acres of forest land, 272.51 acres non-forest and 2.26 acres private land) are currently required for the JSW project. Only 45.56 acres of forestland that come under the jurisdiction of Dhinkia are to be now acquired for the project.

Residents of Dhinkia said they cannot let go the betel vineyards even though they are on government land. Out of 625 betel vineyards enumerated for demolition on government land, 400 have been demolished. They also fear that pollution caused by the steel plant would adversely impact their agricultural activities in future. Villagers have resolved not to let go of their lands.

Activist Prafulla Samantara alleged that the proposed project does not even have a valid environmental clearance without which they cannot start any construction activities. The company is still awaiting environment clearance, which led to criticism that the State government was pushing ahead with the project without regulatory approval.

The Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report prepared by the company has several shortcomings even though the company had “manufactured” hundreds of consent papers in the names of locals in its favour, Mr. Samantara claimed.

Human rights activists expressed concerns, stating brutal police force was being used to suppress the voice of the people. Many Dhinkia villagers are facing criminal cases due to their 15-year-long resistance against the steel plant.

Jagatsinghpur Superintendent of Police Akhilesvar Singh refuted all charges and said that a small group of people, backed by activists, was creating trouble by spreading a false narrative.

JSW has announced a rehabilitation package that it claims is better than the declared government policy. The company has also announced jobs for locals. Dhinkia villagers see little benefits in such proposals.

Protesting villagers were, however, getting impatient as the Jagatsinghpur district administration started constructing a boundary wall for the steel project. Once it is constructed, villagers cannot access the land for their livelihood.

A fact-finding team comprising human rights activists recommended that the village gramsabha must be allowed to deliberate, discuss and decide – with adequate notice – about any project, including the creation of new revenue villages and demarcating territories for the same.

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Printable version | May 8, 2022 7:17:36 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/explained-why-land-for-another-steel-plant-in-odisha-is-making-news/article38286268.ece