Ending years of wait-and-watch, the district administration and officials of Odisha’s Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation (IDCO) in a pre-dawn operation quietly made their way into Gobindpur village, the nerve-centre of the anti-Posco agitation, and cleared betel vine plantations to acquire about 700 acres of land for the steel plant project.
Caught off guard by the sudden entry of the officials with 12 platoons of police, the villagers tried to resist. At least 18 protestors, including women, were injured in the lathi charge that followed. Irate villagers also damaged three police vehicles. The administration, however, denied using force.
According to PPSS (Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti) leader Manorama Khatua, the condition of four of the injured was critical. Collector Satyakumar Mallick, however, said the process of clearing the betel vines was peaceful and that even compensation was paid to the villagers.
Land acquisition work had been halted more than a year ago following violence during the construction of a coastal road near the proposed project site in December 2011, and formation of human chains.
On Sunday, before activists could form a human shield with the help of women and children, the forces moved in during the early hours. Mallick and SP Satyabrat Bhoi had camped at Paradip on Saturday night to oversee the operation. As news spread, hundreds of irate women tried to prevent their entry by chopping down trees. This allegedly triggered a clash.
Later, the activists led by local CPI MP Bibhuprasad Tarai sat on dharna at Patana chowk. Tarai was critical of the ‘demolition at gun-point’ and demanded withdrawal of police and a halt to the clearing of the vines. “The attack on school children and women by armed police is inhumane. We will intensify our stir,” he said.
A team of State Congress leaders from Bhubaneswar, who reached the spot, also sat on dharna. “We have no objection to the project in this locality but we protest the plant being set up on fertile land,” they said.
As the face-off continued, IDCO officials destroyed 13 betel vines and disbursed compensation of about `20 lakh. Police detained more than 50 activists and released them later. Activist Debendra Swain was arrested.
Meanwhile, after a meeting, the administration has agreed to withdraw police from the area.