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People take to roads, govt the table

Bhubaneswar, April 19: The Centre and Orissa government today asked Korean steelmaker Posco to negotiate with the displaced populace for the acquisition of private land while agreeing to work mutually for early resolution of the problems facing the steel project in Jagatsinghpur.

In a meeting that lasted for over 90 minutes, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) today discussed with chief minister Naveen Patnaik, chief secretary Ajit Tripathy, steel and mines secretary L.N. Gupta and 12 other Union secretaries the problems regarding land acquisition, which has become the biggest stumbling block for the South Korean company.

The proposed steel plant, which would be India’s biggest ever foreign investment, has faced stiff resistance from villagers in Jagatsinghpur many of whom are unwilling to give up their land. Posco needs 4,004 acres for its project, of which 435 acres belong to private landowners.

“The state government can facilitate the process,” said a press release from the chief minister’s office soon after the PMO’s review meeting, referring to Posco’s negotiation with the local people for the land.

For last 20 months, the state government has not been able to acquire private land at the gram panchayats of Dhinkia, Gadakujang and Nuagaon after villagers erected bamboo barricades at the entrance of their villages. Even an assembly of 12 platoons of armed forces at a distance has failed to take steam out of the project.

Though today’s decision meant to shift the onus of land acquisition on the shoulders of the Korean steel major, the steel and mines secretary said there was nothing new in it.

“The new rehabilitation and resettlement policy of the state government has a provision of industrial houses negotiating for land acquisition. But we are not running away from our responsibilities. We would facilitate the process,” Gupta told The Telegraph over phone from Delhi. A Posco spokesman, however, refused to react to the decision.

Regarding the tussle over prospecting the licence of Khandadhar mines, the Prime Minister asked the ministries of steel and mines to sort it out at the earliest.

Kudremukh Iron Ore Limted had approached the Orissa High Court contesting the state government’s decision of sanctioning the prospecting licence for Posco saying it already prospected the Khandadhar mining area and the company has a preferential right to the allotment of mining lease. The high court, on the other hand, lobbed the ball to the Centre this week.

Meanwhile, as the PMO reviewed the progress on Posco, the state capital echoed with protests with various groups and political parties taking to streets to protest against forcible land acquisition.

Bhubaneswar zonal committee of the CPM organised a daylong dharna a little away from the Raj Bhavan today after its main entrance was cordoned off by the police. A delegation of members also submitted a memorandum to Governor Rameswar Thakur today.

“The plan to use force must be condemned by all. Neither the company nor the government has made any alternative arrangement to accommodate the displaced villagers. Where will they go'” asked CPM National Council member Ramakrushna Panda.

Odisha Jana Andolan Samanwaya Samiti — an umbrella body of organisations protesting against several industrial projects in the state — also organised a separate rally from Jayadev Square to Raj Bhavan but were stopped by the police near the Special Circuit House.

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