Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Indian farmers in Odisha state protest massive steel plant that could displace 22,000 people

The eastern state of Odisha in India is pitting small farmers against international business interests in a battle that threatens the Indian government's idea of development.

"POSCO go back!" is a common chant among the hundreds of residents from Jagatsingpur district who have been standing guard at the village borders since June 2, to prevent the forcible acquisition of their lands for a steel plant, the country’s largest, that South-Korea based Pohang Steel Company (POSCO) wants to set up. Twenty police battalions have been stationed a few kilometers away, awaiting the state government’s instructions.

At $12bn, POSCO, partially funded by Warren Buffett, Citibank and JP Morgan Chase, is slated to be the largest Foreign Direct Investment ever to be made in India, according to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The Odisha government claims the mega-project will wipe out poverty from the state. But in six years, the government has not been able to finish acquiring land for the plant.

On July 16, 10 platoons of police marched into Nuagaon village with the district authorities to restart the process of land acquisition. Over 300 village women tried to stop them from felling trees in the forest. The police attacked with batons, injuring eight people, before they were driven out by the villagers.

Odisha has a wealth of mineral resources, and in order to attract investments, the government has made concessions for corporations in the form of tax-free Special Economic Zones and mineral-ore at low prices. But across the state, from Niyamgiri where the Dongria tribals are fighting UK-based Vedanta's bauxite mining project, to Kalinganagar where opposition to Tata's proposed steel plant has resulted in the killing of 19 villagers since January 2006, these large projects are being met with resistance from some of the people they purport to benefit. (more)