Mumbai: Public protest against the Posco project in Orissa on Friday received a boost with eminent social activist Medha Patkar deciding to join it even as the state government ruled out any forcible acquisition of land for the Rs 52,000 crore mega venture.
Patkar`s decision to plunge into the movement may further stall the already delayed land acquisition process.
"People have the right to protest...without local people`s consent how can the government acquire the land? It is a gross human rights violation," Patkar said, adding "I will be there to cooperate with them soon."
Sources close to the Narmada Bachao Andolan leader, however, said she may join the protest as early as this Sunday.
"The land acquisition is going on in an undemocratic manner at proposed project site in Jagatsinghpur district. The administration should understand that land acquisition cannot happen at gun point. It should happen only through proper dialogue with the local people," she said.
Notwithstanding the growing clamour by social activists and the project-affected people for scrapping the project, the state government put up a brave face, saying it was least worried as it would not go for forcible acquisition of land and try to convince the locals how the project will benefit them.
"We are not under pressure....not worried about anything, as we have decided not to acquire land forcibly from the people. We are trying to motivate people to allow setting up of the mega steel project for the benefit of state as well as the local community," Orissa Steel and Mines Minister Raghunath Mohanty said.
"We have faith in the people that they would understand the importance of the project," he said.
A group of social activists including Swami Agnivesh and Prafulla Samnatara, president of Lok Shakti Abhijan, Orissa Chapter and a national convenor of National Alliance of People`s Movements (NAPM) are already at the project site to carry forward the protest.
"The administration is forgetting that we are living in a democratic country and everyone has a right to protest. People should get the right compensation (for land). If they (locals) do not want the project, then why the government is pushing for it?," Samnatara said from the protest site.
The Union Environment Ministry recently gave its final clearance to the 12-million tonne plant to be set up by Posco on certain conditions, including ensuring that tribal rights and forest protection laws are observed.
The USD 12-billion integrated steel, mining and port project is the single-largest foreign investment in India till date. The South Korean giant had signed an MoU with the Orissa Government in 2005.
The mega steel project faced a big hurdle last week when thousands of villagers including schoolchildren and women formed human barricades, forcing the government to halt its land acquisition drive.
"We will continue our protest and will not allow them to enter the site. The local authorities are acquiring land forcibly," Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) spokesperson Prashant Paikary said.
"We expect more social activists to join the protest soon. This battle will continue till our last breath," he said.
When contacted, Posco India vice-president Vikas Sharan declined to comment on the land acquisition drive.
Land acquisition has been a thorny issue in the mineral-rich state, where domestic steel major Tata Steel is still struggling to get enough land for its project announced nearly seven years ago.