Land acquisition process for the Rs. 52,000 crore Posco steel plant gained momentum on Tuesday in Odisha's Jagatsinghpur district with the use of machines even as children joined anti-project activists in demanding withdrawal of police force from the area.
"Dismantling of betel vines was carried out manually during last two days. The administration has now started using machines for the purpose to speed up the process", additional district magistrate, Paradip, Surjeet Das said.
"So far, 60 acres of the required additional 700 acres land has been acquired since fresh acquisition began at Gobindpur on Sunday. It will gain pace hence forward", he said.
While Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) leader Abhay Sahu launched a hunger strike at nearby Patna Hat demanding immediate withdrawal of police force from the area, a large number of children joined the demonstration after shutting down their schools.
Police and demonstrators virtually came face-to-face as students from about nine schools from nearby Dhinkia, Patna and Gobindpur gathered on the outskirt of Gobindpur village where land acquisition was in progress, sources said.
Land acquisition work for the steel project, which resumed after a gap of over one year, was now continuing in a smooth and peaceful manner. Betel vines of only those willing to hand over their land were being demolished with payment of compensation on the spot, Das said.
More than 20 betel vines had been dismantled on Tuesday and cheques payment of compensation paid on the spot to land losers. The administration had set a target of demolishing 50 betel vines for the day, he said.
A senior police official claimed that the land acquisition process was progressing smoothly and peacefully despite attempts by anti-project activists to disrupt the work.
The district collector SK Mallick and the Superintendent of Police were camping at the spot to ensure smooth progress of the operation while 14 platoons of the police were deployed in the area to ward off any trouble.
On the other hand, project opponents stepped up their stir at Patna under Dhinkia gram panchayat, considered the epi-centre of anti-Posco agitation, and one of the three gram panchayats involved in the Posco imbroglio with protesters, including women and children, sealing Gobindpur-Dhinkia road.
The other two gram panchayats located in the proposed Posco project site near Paradip are Gobindpur and Gadakujanga.
Though land acquisition work progressed smoothly at Gobindpur village amid deployment of armed police personnel in strength, the participation of a large number of school children and women in anti-Posco demonstration seemed to have become a cause of worry for the administration, sources said.
Refuting allegation levelled by anti-Posco leaders that land acquisition was being carried out forcibly in the area, a senior official said betel vines of those villagers who had given their consent in writing were being demolished.
Police force has been deployed as the villagers who were handing over their betel-vines wanted full protection, the district collector said.