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New dawn lifts land deadlock

Bhubaneswar, March 9: Fourteen months after a bloody battle with the police over land acquisition at Kalinga Nagar, agitating tribals lifted the blockade on the Daitari-Paradip highway in the early hours today.

“We respect the high court order and are removing the blockade. We hope the government will keep its promise on fulfilling our demands,” secretary of Bisthapan Virodhi Jan Manch (BVJM) Rabindra Jarika said. He, however, reiterated they would not leave the land until the state government fulfils their demands.

Just past midnight, the tribal leaders carried out an elaborate puja at Bir Bhumi, the mass cremation ground of the tribals killed in police firing on January 2 last year. Around 1.40 am, the tribals, including scores of women, started moving the boulders, logs and stones with which they had blocked the road for the past 431 days.

The district administration, which had been monitoring the situation since morning, heaved a sigh of relief as the blockade came to an end.

“They have removed the blockade peacefully. However, we will retain some force here till the situation normalises,” superintendent of police Asit Panigrahi said.

The news spelt cheer for industry captains across the state. “We are extremely happy and would like to thank the state government as well as the stake-holders,” said Sanjay Chaudhury, chief of corporate communications, Tata Steel. He also thanked the local villagers who, he said, “have understood the need to resolve the dispute in a peaceful manner”.

Asked if the delay will adversely affect the prospects of the 6-million-tonne integrated steel plant at Kalinga Nagar, he said: “No doubt there has been a delay, but we shall now take it up from here.”

One could not miss the optimism from chief minister Naveen Patnaik’s voice, too, despite his curt one-liner. “I am glad that the blockade has been lifted,” the chief minister told the mediapersons at the secretariat today.

Chairman of CII, Orissa chapter, and joint managing director of IMFA group Subhrakant Panda said the blockade was sending out the wrong vibes for to investors. “With Kalinga Nagar emerging as the epicentre of a new wave of industrialisation in the state, the process will now be pushed forward,” he said.

However, transporters reacted with caution even after the barricade was removed and only one-fourth of the 2,000-strong contingent of heavy-loading trucks could be seen on the blockade-free highway. “It is natural that the owners and drivers are wary,” said Sk Juman, secretary of Jaraka Truck Owners’ Association.

Learning their lessons from the Kalinga Nagar tussle, the state government today decided to raise an industrial security force on the on the lines of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) to look after security in the emerging industrial belts. A proposal to this effect submitted by the home department was approved at a high-level meeting at the secretariat today.

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