A day after the environment ministry cleared the 12-million-tonne Posco steel plant, which will be built here, minister Jairam Ramesh’s name is being heard almost as frequently in discussions as that of chief minister Naveen Patnaik. Very little of what is being said, however, is complimentary.
“Naveen Patnaik has never been concerned about our plight. Now Ramesh has cheated us too,” said Rabindra Kumar Rout, a betel vine farmer at Nuagaon village, as he headed for the Tuesday evening public meeting called by the organization opposing Posco’s entry — the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) at Patana village.
More women than men attended the 2000 strong meeting, which decided that irrespective of the environment ministry’s decision, the six year long struggle against the
proposed steel plant would not only continue, but would intensify. “We will seal all entry points to our villages to bar the Posco and state government officials and police from entering. We are ready for a fight,” said Basanti Swain of Dhinkia town.
The reason for the belligerence is easy to see. The steel project will displace around 3000 families (around 818 have moved already) from an area that is fairly prosperous, with fertile land, plenty of banana and coconut tress, betel vines and fish ponds.
“I earn more than Rs 15,000 a month from my four-acre farm and my eight cows. Why should I give this up whatever the compensation?” said Gitanjali Das (60), a Patana resident.
A survey by the state government showed there were 1500 betel vines and 31 prawn breeding ponds in the area, both of which are highly lucrative.
The Orissa government has announced a R70 crore rehabilitation package for those displaced by the steel plant. But it has been rejected by the PPSS.
“They can give us cash, but not livelihood. We have only one demand: remove Posco from here,” said Narahari Mantri, a vine farmer in Nuagaon.
It is not as if there are no Posco supporters in these villages. But they are not visible. They talk in hushed tones.