Paradip, July 16: Things were back on the boil today in Posco project area. Tension mounted in the zone as at least eight protesters, mostly women, were injured following an alleged use of force by police at Polang village.
Officials engaged in land acquisition process for the steel plant project were forced to retreat with project-related work left grounded today amidst stiff resistance from landlosers. The land acquisition process and ancillary project-related work was stalled with local residents opposing the felling of trees against their consent.
“We had to suspend the project-related work today because of people’s protest. Civil construction work was also affected. We managed to cut down only one tree. No further forest clearance work was possible to take up today following the protest by the villagers and the subsequent tense situation,” said Sujeet Das, project director, resettlement and rehabilitation.
Situation today turned tense as villagers of Mathsahi and Saghaipai from Nuagaon gram panchayat rushed to the Polang forest areas where the officials were about to commence the pulling down of the trees.
The village forest committee members, who were leading the protesters, asked the officials to stop the tree-felling exercise till their demands for compensation and rehabilitation package revision were met. As the officials did not pay heed, the assembly of people, comprising sizeable number of women, turned restive. The women members marched forward to snatch away the cutting machines from personnel. The police later resorted to baton wielding to disperse the mob.
The injured persons were identified as Srimati Sethi, Hemalata Mallick, Netamani Panda, Kuni Sahani, Srimati Nayak, Kanduri Bardhan, Iswar Panda and Srimant Biswal. Six of the injured protesters were women.
“Today’s incident has belied the oft-repeated police claim that land acquisition and project-related work is being done in the proposed Posco project area without using any kind of force. The police acted in an uncivilised manner roughing up women protesters. The protest was peaceful and democratic. But, the police tried to flaunt their presence by beating up the people,” said Nuagaon sarpanch Bhaskar Swain.
Secretary of the pro-Posco outfit, United Action Committee, Nirvay Samantray also echoed Swain. “We have appealed to the administration to win people’s confidence by stalling the project till fulfilment of their demands. But, the officials are not in a mood to listen to us.”
The police officials, however, denied the allegations related to use of force. “The assembly of protesting people near Polang forest areas on Gadakujang-Nuagaon gram panchayat border had turned unruly. They stopped the officials from discharging their duty. The crowd snatched away the portable tree-cutting machines from the personnel,” said sub-divisional police officer Shantanu Kumar Das.
“In order to control and disperse the mob, the police wielded lathi without targeting the protesters. A stampede had ensued in which some villagers were injured,” Das added.
“There was ample provocation from the people. But the police acted with utmost restraint while discharging its duty,” said superintendent of police, Jagatsinghpur, S. Devidatta Singh.While tense situation prevailed in most parts of the project villages, resistance movement against the steel project spearheaded by Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti got boost today with about 65 Dangaria Kandh tribals from Niyamgiri hills visiting the agitation spot in Gobindpur. The tribal settlers under Niyamgiri Surakhya Samity, an anti-Vendanta outfit, visited the village and expressed solidarity with the people opposing the South Korean project.