Posco India is making a tactical retreat. In the face of continuing local resistance to its proposed $12 billion (Rs 49,200 crore) steel project at Jagatsinghpur, Orissa, the company is ready to forego 200 of the 4004 acres of land it needs.
Soung Sik-Cho, Posco's Chairman and Managing Director, has conveyed this to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at a meeting on Tuesday.
According to Shashanka Pattnaik, Posco-India's Senior Public Relations Manager, "these 200 acres lie in the Dhinkia panchayat in Jagatsinghpur district, the nerve centre of opposition to the Posco project." In Dhinkia, the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS) has been running a parallel administration for months. No stranger can cross the road blocks that have been put up without proper identification.
Sixteen platoons of state police are still deployed at a distance of 17-km from Dhinkia. But sources in the government revealed that Soung was told at his meeting with the chief minister that the government would not use force in clearing the blockade at Dhinkia. They said the clashes at Nandigram in neighbouring West Bengal had led the chief minister to rule out any strong arm action.
Of the 4004 acres needed, 3566 acres is being provided by the Orissa government. Only the remaining 438 acres needs to be acquired from private sources. "The 200 acres in Dhinkia, will displace 120 families," said Shashanka Pattnaik. "We will try to persuade them and explain the relief and rehabilitation package to them. But in spite of that, if they don't change their minds, we will think of alternative options. Our project at Jagatsinghpur is very much on and we are pursuing it with all seriousness".
The company is likely to start construction of the plant in the rest of the area at the earliest. "We have taken steps to start direct negotiations with the people to be displaced from the private lands," Soung said later. "We requested the state government to create the right atmosphere so that a meaningful dialogue with the project affected people can continue". Posco has also expressed its willingness to compensate the affected people at the prevailing market rates of their land prices.
Negotiations are already on with the affected people in Nuagaon, Gadakujanga and Dhinkia panchayats of Jagatsinghpur district where land for the project has been earmarked. Sources said the efforts have yielded some positive results, though not in Dhinkia.