POSCO project remains grounded on betel vs steel fight

It is now the betel leaf farmers of a cluster of villages around Paradip in Orissa who now stand in the way of the Indian footprint of a global steel behemoth.

Updated: Jun 27, 2010, 11:55 AM IST

Bhubaneswar: It is now the betel leaf
farmers of a cluster of villages around Paradip in Orissa who
now stand in the way of the Indian footprint of a global steel

Five years back when South Korean chaebol POSCO signed an
MoU with Orissa government to set up a Rs 51,000 crore mega
project near Paradip, scarcely did it anticipate the trouble
it would face from the betel leaf farmers of eight villages
where the project is supposed to come up.

POSCO-India, which needs 4004 acres of land to set up its
12 MTPA greenfield project, failed to acquire an inch of land
in the eight villages in three gram panchayats of Dhinkia,
Gada Kujang and Nuagaonas even as the MoU with a five-year
validity period lapsed.

The villagers, who earn their living by exporting betel
leaves to countries like Maldives, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri
Lanka and Bangladesh, argued that a single leaf fetched them
Rs one and one acre of betel vine was worth Rs one crore per

There are about 2,900 betel vines in the area giving
daily employment to 6,000 people, said POSCO Pratirodh Sangram
Samiti president Abhay Sahu.

"We will not allow an inch of our fertile multi-crop land
for the industry. We have a flourishing and sustainable
agrarian economy," claimed Dhinkia gram panchayat sarpanch
Sisir Mohapatra who is also the secretary of the Samiti.

Manorama Khatua, a woman activist opposing the POSCO
project, said betel leaves from Dhinkia had a special appeal
to people in Mumbai and Kanpur.

Demanding shifting of the plant site, the Sangram Samiti
in a memorandum to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said: "Betel
cultivation in the past had successfully driven out the
Integrated Test Range from Baliapal to Chandipur area in
Balasore district."

This was not all, the betel leaf farmers of Dhinkia had
also fought and succeeded in shifting the proposed refinery
project of IOCL in 1993-94 to Paradip.

"The IOCL had to shift its project for the sake of betel
vine and agricultural livelihood," Sahu pointed out pleading
that the villagers were ready to sacrifice their lives for the
sake of their livelihood.

"We have no objection to Posco project. But it must shift
to some barren land as Dhinkia symbolises a flourishing
agrarian economy," Mohapatra, who faces a non-bailable warrant
for leading the anti-project agitation, said.

With the expiry of POSCO`s MoU, the Naveen Patnaik
government feels: "It (POSCO plant) is now or never."

As per the condition in the MoU signed on June 22, 2005,
the project`s first module, comprising a 3mtpa crude steel
plant and a 2.82 mtpa finished steel plant, should have been
commissioned by July 2010 or within 36 months from the date of
taking possession of the land, or the registration of the
executed prospecting license, whichever is later.

However, the deadline passed off even without an inch of
land being acquired, a POSCO executive pointed out. He said
it was the responsibility of the state government to arrange
land for the purpose.

Though the state government did not make much effort to
acquire land in the last four years in the face of the
resistance, it became suddenly active to meet the deadline in
April, this year, less than two months before the MoU turned
invalid on June 21, 2010.

Asked about the lapse of the MoU, the chief minister
said, "Renewal of the MoU is being processed. It will be done
according to the law."

The state government`s sudden burst of activity started
some months after Patnaik met the South Korean president, Lee
Myung-Bak, on January 26 at Rastrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

Patnaik met Lee at a programme on the occasion of the
Republic Day this year where Lee was the guest.

"We have been working hard to arrange land for the
Posco-India project," Priyabrata Patnaik, chairman and
managing director of the Orissa Industrial Infrastructure
Development Corporation said.

While everybody blamed the state government for its
alleged failure to acquire land, Orissa`s steel and mines
minister Raghunath Mohanty refused to subscribe to it.

"The project is delayed primarily on account of delay
in obtaining the second stage forest clearance for the

The second stage forest clearance came in December, 2009 and
relevant certificates under the Tribal and Traditional Forest
Dwellers Act were received in March 2010," Mohanty explained.

He wondered how the government could acquire land when
forest clearance and TTFDA clearance were pending and said the
administration started its efforts only after the Centre
cleared hurdles.

Patnaik in his eagerness to bring the country`s largest
foreign direct investment to Orissa has held direct talks with
the villagers and the people who demanded enhanced
compensation and rehabilitation.

He also decided not to acquire private land (about 300
acres) of Dhinkia gram panchayat, the epi-centre of the
anti-POSCO agitation.

With Patnaik announcing not to acquire private land from
Dhinkia, POSCO -India`s land requirement had further reduced
to 3719.22 acres from its original plan of acquiring 4004.10
acres for the purpose.

This apart, the state government which had kept its
negotiation open with agitating villagers, had meanwhile
succeeded in motivating the people to allow socio-economic and
forest land survey even in Dhinkia gram panchayat.

The survey work had been completed in seven of the eight
villages demarcated to locate Posco project, said revenue
divisional commissioner, central division, P K Mohapatra.

"The administration has progressed a lot in last four
months," claimed Jagatsinghpur district collector N C Jena.