Bhubaneswar, Feb. 4: With some anti-Posco protesters of Jagatsighpur district deciding to contest the coming panchayat elections, villagers not opposed to the South Korean company’s project apprehend that the exercise may not be free and fair as they can be threatened to cast votes in favour of the former.
The Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, the body leading the agitation against the proposed mega project, has some of its members contesting the posts of sarpanch and panchayat samiti member in Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gadakujanga gram panchayats.
Sisir Kumar Mohapatra, a leader of the samiti, is running for the post of sarpanch in Dhinkia.
The three gram panchayats are at the centre of the controversy surrounding the proposed Posco project.
Since last year, residents of Dhinkia and the neighbouring villages have put up makeshift gates to prevent the entry of government and Posco representatives. The local women guard the gates and blow conch-shells to alert fellow villagers every time they see a vehicle approach the barrier.
The pro-Posco villagers had alleged before police that the protesters were “harassing them and were not allowing them to fetch water from the tube-wells”.
Against this backdrop, members of the Posco Jana Sampark Vikash Parishad, a pro-plant group, have accused the samiti of threatening voters to elect candidates from the anti-plant group.
The parishad’s working president, Tamil Pradhan, claimed that the anti-Posco front had “secretly” joined hands with the Congress to ensure its electoral success. The other candidates are “too scared” to carry out their propaganda, he alleged.
Pradhan demanded that adequate security be provided in the three gram panchayats to ensure free and fair polls.
Samiti convener Abhay Sahu denied the charges. “We have put up candidates irrespective of their party affiliations and most of the villagers are with us. Why should we threaten them (pro-Posco block)'” he argued, denying that they had entered into a pact with the Congress.
No local Congress member was available for comment.
Superintendent of police Y.K. Jethwa said adequate precautionary measures have been taken to ensure trouble-free elections. “We will ensure that people file their nomination papers and conduct campaigns freely,” the SP said
“We have chalked out a detailed plan for maintenance of law and order,” said a senior district official.