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Posco protesters held hostage

The residents of Dhinkia would rather live like prisoners in their own village than backtrack and support the $12 billion steel project, reports Soumyajit Pattnaik.

india Updated: Dec 10, 2007 02:36 IST
Soumyajit Pattnaik

The anti-Posco protesters in this village are being held hostage in their own homes. Big gates at all three exit points, manned by pro-Posco activists with support from the state armed police, stand between them and the outside world. Even those in need of medical attention don’t cut much ice with the guards.

But the residents of Dhinkia, headquarters of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, would rather live like prisoners in their own village than backtrack and support the $12 billion steel project. That never-say-die spirit is all too evident in Prabhakar Bhoi. The 73-year-old sustained injuries on his leg when pro-Posco groups attacked him and other members of the Samiti on November 29 but he hasn’t lost the will to fight. “The pro-Posco people attacked me with lathis. I cannot walk properly. We may die, but we won’t allow the Posco project on our soil. We were born here and will die here protecting our land,” he says.

Dijabar Das, 75, injured his hand in the attack. It is swollen and he suspects a fracture. But he too will have to do without medical help.

Samiti chairman Abhay Sahu says: “Most families here have betel farms and each farm is like a small cottage industry. A big industry shouldn’t be allowed to devour thousands of small industries.”

Payback time?
Police officials justify the blockade by saying it is to thwart Maoists from entering the village and training the anti-Posco activists. Pro-Posco groups in nearby villages like Gobindpur say it is to stop harassment at the hands of the Samiti members.
Prafula Mohanty, headman of the nearby Gobindpur village, says: “The Samiti leaders blocked a bridge in Balitutha for 10-12 days, severely restricting our movement. After they lost the bridge and retreated, we called the police as we apprehended reprisal attacks. Troublemakers have to be denied entry into our areas from Dhinkia.” Another youth from Gobindpur says: “For months, the Samiti took us hostage and harassed us. They are now being paid back in their own coin.”

Protest losing steam
The fact that the pro-Posco brigade is dictating terms here is reportedly a reflection of the bigger picture. There is talk the scales have tilted in their favour and that barring Dhinkia, there is “conditional support” for the project everywhere else — in Nuagaon and Gadakujanga, where land has been earmarked for the South Korean steel major’s project.
In Gobindpur, the majority of people are in favour of the project. Mohanty says: “We are in favour of the project but we should be adequately compensated for the loss of our homes and betel farms. We have already held discussions with Posco officials. We want more negotiations to arrive at a meaningful settlement.”

At Badagabapur in Jagatsinghpur district, where Posco-India is building a rehabilitation colony, public support for the project is more visible. Here, locals have joined hands with project authorities to expedite construction.

Harihar L Mohanty, working president of the East Zone Posco Development Workers’ Union, told HT: “We want the project as people of our area will benefit. But locals should be given preference over outsiders in getting employment in the plant. Abhay Sahu does not belong to our area and he is an outsider.”

Echoing his view, Pradyumna Bhola of Mulakani village says: “Wherever industries come up, there will be problems. But the problems need to be addressed through negotiation. If Posco addresses some of our conditions, like proper compensation and jobs for locals, then we will certainly support the project.”