Hundreds gathered at Balitutha market area on Sunday, in the first show of strength by the anti-Posco committee after environment minister Jairam Ramesh gave the nod to South Korean steel maker Posco's proposed plant in Jagatsingpur on January 31.
It was attended by villagers, activists, members of grassroot organisations from Orissa and other regions who have been opposing mining and industrial projects in the area.
"Displacement of livelihood is displacement of a family. How can a family stay on if their livelihood is gone?" said Abhay Sahoo of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS). "The areas of Kuajang and Erasama are dependent on fishing, and with the project's proposed captive port, the fishing occupation there will be over."
Sahoo said the PPSS plans to challenge the "false reports" given by the Orissa government to the Centre on the residence and livelihood of traditional forest dwellers in the area.
"We have submitted documents that prove people have been living here for more than 300 years. The government survey map of 1920-29 shows the villages of Dhinkia, Gobindpur, Patana, Nuagaon as having betel gardens and dense forests on which people are dependent on for their livelihood. These meet the
conditions under the Forest Rights Act. The two committees formed by the central government pointed out serious violations. FRA is the law of the land and it has become an important tool for the movement now."
Nakula Behra, 80, who owns 150 betel plants in his village in Gobindpur earns R10,000 from them. His family of seven also cultivates mango, cashew, drumstick and bamboo from which they earn another R3,000 a month. Along with their 36 quintals of rice and 16 cows they live comfortably.
"I've been working on these fields since I was 12. Why should I go anywhere?" he said.
"We will not allow the project and will continue with our democratic resistance till the end," added Sahoo.
Present at the rally, Sankar Pani of Vasundhara, an NGO working to support community forestry in Orissa since 1991, says in Posco's case the resolution of the gram panchayat was bypassed by the district collector. "Both SDLC (sub-divisional level committee) and DLC (district level committee) gave their versions despite the gram panchayat saying they don't want the project."
Prasant Paikray, PPSS spokesperson, added that they plan to give a notice to the government about the gram sabhas passing the resolution on the existence of forest dwellers on the forest land.