Anti-Posco stir intensifies, govt desists from use of force

Paradip: The anti-Posco agitation on Saturday intensified with women and children in the forefront even as state government, which had declared the protests as "unlawful", re-deployed police force but it returned for the second day without entering the plant site.

The six-year-old agitation against the setting up of the steel plant, which reached a flashpoint after state government tried to acquire land forcibly, today saw political leaders and civil society activists rushing to the dharna site at Gobindpur to express solidarity with the protesters.

As the villagers, refusing to give away their land for the steel plant, formed a three-tier human barricade at the entry point, 23 platoons of police (about 800 personnel) were re-deployed in the area, official sources said.

Police had been withdrawn from the place yesterday as the district administration of Jagatsinghpur made efforts to persuade the agitators to allow movement of officials in the area for land acquisition work for the project, they said.

CPI MP Bibhu Prasad Tarai along with members of CPI-M, Forward Bloc, RJD and SP reached Gobindpur area and sat on a dharna protesting forcible land acquisition by the state government. "The people are being beaten up, threatened and forced to receive cheque as compensation," Tarai alleged.

Jagatsinghpur district Rehabilitation and Resettlement officer Surjit Das, however, termed the MP`s allegation as "false and baseless".

"We acquire land of the people who volunteer to give it," Das told PTI over phone claiming that there had been absolutely no use of force so far.

Not ruling out use of police force, Jagatsinghpur SP Devdutt Singh said, "It is unlawful to claim ownership over government`s forest land. We will do whatever is lawful."

The administration has declared assembly of protesters at the site as unlawful. "We have been requesting people to cooperate with the government. As they are not ready for talks we will see what best can be done to retrieve government land in their possession," Collector N C Jena said.

The mood at the site, however, was different with people determined to oppose entry of police and officials into their village. The agitating children and women were lying on the hot sand dunes for hours preventing police to take possession of the land.

Meanwhile, in a statement, Congress condemned the manner in which the state government was acquiring land " by using force".

"Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik`s assurance that no force would be used for land acquisition has turned out to be a mockery," the party said.

"The state government had subjected children and women to physical and mental torture by forcing them to lie down in scorching heat and humidity," party spokesman Prof Kailash Acharya said, adding Congress would support people`s agitation.

"We are shocked to know that force is used to acquire land for Posco project. It is contradictory to chief minister`s claim of peaceful industrialisation," AICC`s Orissa in-charge Jagdish Tytler told a new channel.

Justifying use of children in the agitation, Posco Pratorodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) Abhay Sahu said, "There is no harm in involving children. They will also be displaced along with their parents and suffer if the economic backbone of their families collapses."

"We do not see any wrong if the children and women take their own cause instead of depending on others to do it for them," Sahu said.

"It is a do or die battle for the residents here," he said.