For more than seven years, the people of three panchayats in Odisha, India have successfully fought off attempts by the Korean Steel conglomerate POSCO and the government to forcibly acquire their land. At 4AM on 3rd February 2013 in a dramatic turn of events, 12 platoons of police entered villages, Dhinkia and Govindpur and attacked the villagers ruthlessly. On entering, they attacked women and children first. At least six women and elderly people were seriously injured and 50 were detained by the police.
Around 4000 families who will be affected by the project do not want their home and livelihood sources to be ceded for construction of the integrated steel plant. The Gram Sabhas-Assembly of elders in the village/Panchayat, of the concerned villages have time and again reiterated their opposition to any land acquisition of their land. Despite overwhelming evidence of the illegalities and unconstitutionality in acquiring land against the people's consent, the Jagatsinghpur District Collector SK Mallick made a public statement to the media on 28th December 2012 to resume the acquisition. The District Collector of Jagatsinghpur categorically stated- “The state government has decided to start activities from tomorrow. We have already taken the consent of local residents for starting the work.”
The District Collector has no evidence to support his statement: The Collector’s statement is factually incorrect and misrepresents the voices of the most vulnerable people caught in the situation - the affected families.
Under the Forest Rights Act 2006, there can be no diversion of forest land without recognition of forest rights and without obtaining the informed consent of the Gram Sabhas of the concerned villages. Any diversion that does not comply would be a violation of the law. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) also has suspended the environmental clearance granted to the project on 30th March 2012. It is therefore illegal on part of the state government to announce the resumption of ‘activities’. It is no longer a democracy where the elected government overlooks people's rights to their ancestral land and the safety of the environment in order to show undue favor to a corporate entity.
The State Police has already lodged 230 false cases against the people and put six villagers namely Bibhuna Mahapatra, Alok Swain, Tumana Das of Dhinkia village and Achyut Das, Nivaran Das of Patana village and Babuli Rout of Govindpur village in the jail.
From the midnight of 9th January 2013 onwards, the government has deployed 10 platoons of police deployed near these villages. The government is also bringing another 8 platoons of police force to this area. To prevent possible police operations in these villages, the villagers have erected barricades, disconnected the roads to Dhinkia and Govindpur and are determined to thwart any entry of outsiders. Both men and women are keeping a strict 24 x 7 vigil.
Democracy and our right to dissent and protest are being brutally assaulted by the so called democratic government of the state. As opposed to the government's backhanded tactics, the people's movement has been determined, non-violent and democratic. False propaganda, intimidation, false cases and threats of forcible eviction have not demoralized our people and we are doubly determined to take the struggle to its logical end.
Please join us in calling on Shri. Naveen Patnaik, Chief Minister of Odisha to withdraw the heavy deployment of police in our area and stop the diversion of forest land. Demand that the people be given the right to land.
Spokesperson, POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti
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