ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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People vs Steel

A five-year-long battle against the POSCO project in Orissa is now at the crossroads.

Five years after the first announcement by the South Korean company POSCO to set up a steel plant in Jagatsinghpur district in Orissa and after five years of opposition, the project proposal has entered a critical phase. After a summer of ever growing protests by the people in the villages that will be affected by the project, Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik finally met the representatives of the Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS), which has been spearheading the agitation. An agreement reached at the meeting earlier this week – to allow land surveys to be completed in all five villages – has, however, opened the PPSS to charges of “surrender” by some organisations and some groups of villagers. The coming weeks and months will be crucial, not only for the fate of this particular movement and the steel plant, but also for similar movements and projects elsewhere.

The June 2005 memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Government of Orissa and POSCO envisioned the setting up of a plant to produce 12 million tonnes of steel a year. POSCO claimed that it would invest a total of Rs 54,000 crore over the next decade and the government promised the company more than 4,000 acres (1,600 hectares) of land and captive access to the Khandahar mine. This was part of the larger industrial policy of the Orissa government, which planned the establishment of a steel plant at Kalinganagar (Tatas) and an aluminium mine and smelter at Niyamgiri (Vedanta). All three projects have faced strong opposition from those who will be displaced. The Orissa government has signed a total of 49 such MoUs for steel plants.

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