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Light at end of tunnel for steel majors?

December 06, 2007 03:16 IST

On November 29, hundreds of armed villagers living in the Posco project area attacked anti-Posco protesters at Balitutha with bombs and burning down tents. More than 20 people were injured in the incident near Kujanga, in coastal Orissa's Jagatsinghpur district.

On December 1, hordes of villagers in Kalinga Nagar, in adjacent Jajpur district, confronted activists of Visthapan Virodhi Jan Manch opposing the displacement of locals for a Tata Steel project. The demolition of a boundary wall of a Rs 10 crore hospital being built by the Tatas ignited the clash.

Prohibitory orders were declared in Kujanga on Wednesday to prevent an escalation of the trouble and about 500 additional police personnel are being deployed here.

Suppressed voices:

The two incidents signal the growing voice of supporters of major industrial projects in Orissa that have faced opposition from sections in this little-developed state. These voices remained suppressed so far in the face of violence by anti-project groups, which have been infiltrated by militant elements like the Maoists.

"In the Posco area, 90 per cent people support the project. But they never aired their views from a united platform and their disjointed voices were drowned by the noise made by the organised movement of anti-project people," said Damodar Rout, legislator from Kujanga.

"Even the media coverage is skewed towards their cause." Rout is a member of the ruling Biju Janata Dal party.

Significant step:

Amar Parida, a journalist in the area, said that for over two months the anti-Posco brigade set up barricades at Balitutha to block the entry of state officials and company executives.

But in actual practice they were harassing the people of Nuagaon and Gadakujanga who are in favour of the project, obstructing their movement.

"As the administration did not do anything to remove the blockade, the project supporters swooped down on the camp of the protesters with a vengeance," Parida said.

It was a similar story in Kalinga Nagar where 14 tribals were killed in police firing on marchers protesting against the proposed six million ton Tata steel plant last year.

"For the first time, people ousted from the land dared to face those opposed to the project. This is a significant development," said D S Kuttey, superintendent of police in Jajpur.

Sponsored support:

However, a member of an ultra-Left group dismisses the counter-activism of pro-project groups as a sponsored programme of the administration and industrial houses.

"The Orissa government is working on the behest of the company, and by using force, cajoling and luring some villagers with monetary benefits, it has converted them into supporting Posco, and create a rift among villagers," said Rajendra Sarangi of Lok Pakhya.

The initiative of the villagers has reopened the road for police to get to the Posco site for the first time in two years.

With tension very much evident in the area, prohibitory orders have been declared and police presence is being strengthened. Dhinkia village, the epicenter of the anti-Posco agitation, has been cordoned off by police.

Sarangi says the measures have caused more hardship for villagers. "If police are not withdrawn soon, the situation in the area could turn explosive and the government and Posco will be held responsible for this," he said.

Dillip Satapathy in Bhubaneswar