The Hindu Explains: From Real Estate regulation to POSCO row

Where the public resistance is building over POSCO land in Odisha

A man walks past a logo of POSCO at the company’ss headquarters in Seoul.  

The South Korean steel major, POSCO, may have pulled out of Odisha, but public resistance is building afresh over the land it has surrendered. In March, POSCO finally let the State government know that it is giving up stake on land it had acquired as it was unable to start work on a proposed steel plant.

What happened?

On June 22, 2005, POSCO signed a memorandum of understanding with the State to set up a 12 million tonne per annum steel plant along the coast near Paradip at a cost of ₹51,000 crore. It was billed as India’s largest-ever FDI venture. Over the next 12 years, POSCO — and the State government — faced huge public protests. People living in the coastal gram panchayats of Nuagaon, Gadakujang and Dhinkia in Jagatsinghpur district, where the steel mill was planned to be set up, did not want to part with the forestland they had been holding for over 100 years for betel cultivation and fishing.

The State government, however, was keen on acquiring the land since the project would boost development and create jobs. The villagers clashed with the police, who ventured into the area to acquire land.

How did the situation change?

As the POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) launched the protests, with Dhinkia village as the epicentre, POSCO decreased its land requirement from 4,004 acres for a 12 MTPA steel plant to be built in three phases to 2,700 acres for an 8 MTPA plant in two phases. Dhinkia was excluded from the project area.

Land acquisition was carried out in phases amid violent clashes between pro and anti-POSCO protesters. At least four villagers were killed. Thousands of trees were felled and hundreds of betel vineyards were destroyed for land acquisition. Around 2,700 acres was acquired by 2013.

But before the entire land could be handed over to the company, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act was amended. This made the steelmaker’s application for Khandadhar iron ore mines in the State ineligible. The new law stated that a company had to take the auction route to get raw material. POSCO informed the Odisha government in March that it was no longer keen on the project.

Why follow Singur?

While the State government has started considering proposals from other companies, including JSW Steel, which wants to set up a 10 MTPA steel plant, the villagers have joined hands again, demanding that the land be returned to them.

“Odisha must follow the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Singur issue that the land of farmers bought for the Tata Nano plant be returned to them,” says PPSS spokesperson Prashant Paikray.

The government must respect the unanimous resolution passed by over 2,000 people at a gram sabha held in October 2012 that the land used for betel cultivation was under the rights provided to the gram sabha under the Forest Rights Act, 2006, says Mr. Paikray.

Claims on the forestland filed by a large number of families are still pending for disposal.

Many families who “accepted” compensation for demolition of their betel vines too have joined hands with those who had been opposing land acquisition all these years. Nearly 100 betel vines have already been rebuilt by the villagers on the acquired land.

The State government wants to limit the damage to its image because of POSCO’s exit by handing over the land to another company. It has started the process for constructing a boundary wall around the acquired land, amid a fresh tussle with the villagers.


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Printable version | Jun 25, 2021 3:26:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/in-odisha-fresh-row-brewing-over-posco-land/article18516063.ece

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