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Odisha Villagers Continue to Protest Jindal Steel Plant Despite Police ‘Brutality’

The plant violates the Forest Rights Act and will displace the Adivasis of Jagatsinghpur’s Dhinkia village, according to activists.
Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) supporters stage a demonstration against the use of batons by police on people protesting against the forceful acquiring of betel yards for Jindal Steel Works (JSW) Ltd by the Dhinkia administration, in Bhubaneswar on Thursday.

Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) supporters stage a demonstration against the use of batons by police on people protesting against the forceful acquiring of betel yards for Jindal Steel Works (JSW) Ltd by the Dhinkia administration, in Bhubaneswar on Jan 20. 

Four years after the natives of Dhinkia, Gadakujang and Nuagaon panchayats in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur forced South Korean steel behemoth POSCO to abandon its plan of setting up a 12 million tonne per annum (MTPA) plant, the villagers of the district are facing the administration’s “brutal” tactics for opposing the proposed 13.2 MTPA JSW Utkal Steel Plant.

The integrated steel plant, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sajjan Jindal-led JSW Steel, proposed to be set up in Dhinkia, violates the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006, and will displace the Adivasis, according to activists.

Last week, an expert appraisal committee of the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEF&CC) recommended environment clearance (EC) for the steel plant after deferring its decision and seeking more information.

The Odisha government is in the process of handing over the land for the project despite stiff resistance from locals. At least, three petitions against the project are pending in the Orissa High Court, which had constituted a five-member panel of advocates last week to make an on-the-spot assessment of the ground-level situation at Dhinkia. More than two dozen villagers opposing the project were injured during a confrontation with the police in January.

At a webinar organised by the Yugma Network on February 19, activists condemned the alleged brutal repression of the protesters. Local activists have alleged that the state government is using every possible way to break their unity and resolve for resistance. There have been multiple allegations of the police acting in a biased and vindictive manner against the protesters and even implicating them in false cases.

“Who will benefit from this plant? It will only lead to the destruction of the environment and the lives of the natives. On the pretext of calling this development, the government will make it happen wither by hook or crook,” Prashant Paikray, spokesperson, Jindal Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, said.

Narendra Mohanty, coordinator, Indian Social Action Forum Odisha, who was arrested for protesting the plant and was released on bail earlier this month, mentioned how more than 20 villagers, including women and children, were injured when 12 police platoons charged on hundreds of protesters on January 14. 

Local activist Prafulla Sananntara said that the project will “destroy the betel vineyards and the paddy fields, which are the only sources of livelihood of the 25,000 people” residing in the area. “The area has a sustainable, vibrant agricultural enemy—and the government wants to destroy it by building a steel plant,” he added. 

The company would need 2,950.31 acres for the project, which was proposed exactly in the same area selected by POSCO. The JSW steel will easily get the 2,700 acres that the state government had acquired for the POSCO project. However, the remaining portion of the land that the government plans to allot to JSW is close to the sea and dotted with sand dunes, where betel vines flourish.

Twelve years after it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Odisha government to build the largest integrated steel plant in India, POSCO had to abandon the project due to the massive resistance from the locals. Now, the activists are again united to oppose another steel plant in their fight for livelihood and their land.

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