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Rediff.com  » Business » Violence-hit Posco turns to Gandhian NGO

Violence-hit Posco turns to Gandhian NGO

October 16, 2007 02:38 IST

Korea's Pohang Steel Company, better known as Posco, is in the middle of plans to start work on a private port in Paradip in Orissa amid agitations and litigations. The port is meant to ship iron ore in and out of a neighbouring site where it intends to mine.

 

It is still grappling with resistance from people in three village panchayats in the 4004-acre site it is yet to fully acquire. Much of the government land it has acquired is a vast tract of betal vineyards planted by landless villagers and grown for generations. They are resisting the company just as the villagers who will lose their homes.

 

As part of its strategy to woo the villagers, not only has Posco CMD started taking lessons in the local Oriya language besides strolling into more peaceful villages, the company plans to tie up with an NGO which was started by Manibhai Desai a follower of Gandhi.

 

The Gandhian NGO, BAIF, is expected to work the miracle that will thaw the resistance demonstrated in the recent abduction of Posco executives.

 

The tie-up is part of Posco's corporate social responsibility package for villages. Posco senior general manager Vikash Saran says that the programme with BAIF will support all those who are affected.

 

The NGO will work out a five-year programme in which people in the surrounding areas, as well as displaced people, will get a total package of livelihood, health and education, says Saran.

 

However BAIF, which works in 35,000 villages in 171 districts across 12 states, is not quite sure of the future.

 

"We have been told that, but nothing has been finalised and we have not tied up yet. We have given them ideas, but they are not opening their cards as to what they want us to do. In an oblique manner, we have been told we should do this project," says Ramesh Rawal, vice president of BAIF and one of the seven core group members. "We have not even been told that we have to finish the programme in five years", he adds.

 

BAIF was started by Manibhai, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi in 1967 and it is being run by professionals from various fields. At least three of the members are from IIM Ahmedabad, including Rawal.

 

"We can be called Gandhian in that we believe in community participation for development. And we also believe that technology should be used for growth," says Rawal, defending the mine project.

 

BAIF is working for at least 12 corporates to execute their CSR projects. These include Rourkela Steel Plant, ITC and Unilever. Rawat says it is the requirement of the country to handle the rehabilitation of displaced persons.

 

"Here, there is a transition that has to be handled and it is not easy. More than physical assets, it is the social and emotional costs that are to be dealt with," he says.

 

But Rawat says the organisation has made just one visit to a village and though three villages are affected, at least nine villages are facing the impact and the project has to cover 40 villages.

 

 The NGO is not quite sure of the deal that will finally be struck. "We cannot be sure unless we have  something in hand,'' he said.

 

As for the criticism faced by POSCO over the impact of the land acquisition on the surrounding areas, he says that if the agreement happens, it will be on the NGO's terms. "We will safeguard the interests of our organisation and the community. They come before POSCO,'' he said.

Sreelatha Menon in New Delhi
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