Betel vineyards come up again on ‘Posco’ land

Jagatsinghpur: With South Korean steelmaker Posco virtually winding up its 8 million ton per annum capacity steel project in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district, the land acquired for the mega venture has come under reoccupation of local betel vine growers.

The sand-filled landscapes of Gobindpur, Nuagaon, Noilasahi, Polang, Gadakujang near Paradip were wearing barren look not long back. 1,592 betel vineyards were razed to ground about four years back as part of the land acquisition process for the Rs 52,000 crore-steel plant, which was billed as country’s largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) project. But greenery is back with a bang with people beginning to raise vineyards.

The state-run Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO) had acquired 2700 acre for the South Korean steelmaker. And the land acquisition process came to an end on 4th July 2013. The earmarked project boundary stretched across 2,700 acre was bereft of private land. The project land was either government revenue land or forestland, said a senior official of Jagatsinghpur district administration.

Notwithstanding the government claim that the acquired land is under the safe custody of IDCO land-bank, landowners buoyed by Posco’s retreat are back on the job to put in place betel vineyards. Though vast stretches of land are still unoccupied, strategic spots where vineyards once flourished before being pulled down have come under reoccupation. “The land acquired for Posco project is intact in IDCO land bank exclusively for industrialization,” Industry minister Debi Prasad Mishra said.

Jagatsinghpur Collector Yamini Sarangi refused to comment on the reoccupation of Posco land. “I am not authorised to speak as Industries department is dealing with the land issue,” she said.

“The government took away land virtually at gun point from us. We were told that a mega steel mill would come up here. The officials promised us the moon. Everything has come a cropper. As steel plant is not coming up, we have all the right to begin cultivation at the acquired land. We are ready to pay back the money that had been paid to us as compensation,” said Basudeb Behera, a land owner from Polang village.

“Land reoccupation is an illegal act. People who had given away their land receiving compensation have no legal right over the land. The IDCO owns the land on legal parlance,” said officials.

Meanwhile police have registered 32 cases against the encroachers of steel company land. Criminal cases have been registered against the occupiers under provisions of IPC and Odisha Prevention of Land Encroachment Act (OPLE), said officials.

Meanwhile to make the matter further complicated, Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), which spearheaded the anti-Posco movement, appealed the land-losers to reoccupy the land for cultivation purpose.

“Villagers of Polang of Gadakuganga Gram Panchayat have reoccupied the land and started restructuring their betel vines. People here are left with little option for livelihood after the government razed down their betel vines. In other areas also, landowners have built vineyards for sustenance,” said spokesman of PPSS, Prasant Paikray.

Of the 2,700 acre land acquired for the steel project, more than 600 acres has been reoccupied. Betel vineyards have been raised in the reoccupied land, claimed PPSS activists adding that more land would be occupied in the coming days for restructuring of betel vines.

The act of rebuilding of betel vines amounts to forceful land grabbing and breach of law. Drive would be undertaken to demolish the rebuilt vineyards, said official sources.