– Rajagopal P.V
Sitting with the local people in Dingia village, Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha, one question came up again and again in my mind – “Why is the Odisha government pursuing the interest of a Korean company” in spite of all the resistance that people are putting up for the last 5 years. The other question that is coming from the people is why so many people should be thrown out of their traditional employment like fishing, paddy cultivation, and through cultivation and marketing of beetle nuts in order to create employment for a handful of “educated” people. All such questions are difficult to answer. May be the government has decided not to answer any reasonable question but use police and force to get the land for POSCO. When the struggle began local people were trying to protect 4004 acres of land. In the last 5 years, they have already lost 50% of the land they were trying to protect to the company. The struggle has become tougher but people are willing to sacrifice their life in order to protect their sandy soil that has fed them for generations. This was the fourth time that I went to village Dhingia. Last time women and children were sitting on the sandy soil because they knew that the police is planning to march into the village any time. We went to express our solidarity and also pitched up a pandal in Bhubaneshwar protesting against the Government action. Our protest ended in a negotiated settlement and the police was withdrawn from the scene.
I know, even within the government, there are people who think that there is no need for another sea-port by POSCO when there is already another sea port in Paradeep that is not fully utilized. The local people are absolutely right when they say that according to the recent Forest Rights Act, their claim on the land needs to be settled before the land is given away to any company. The government’s efforts of evading one law and imposing another is not justified. Once people have titles to the land that they are now cultivating, they will have the freedom to decide whether they want to give away the land or not. But forcing them out of their lands without looking at their claims is a clever way to avoid payment of compensation. Of course this is not the way local people look at it. Whether it is personal or common land, they want to cling on to the land and make a living out of it. As you move out of the village some of our friends were deeply anguished by the insensitivity of the government in pushing people away from their own land and livelihood.
Today towards the end of the meeting, we asked the local people what kind of support they are expecting. Many of their leaders, including Abhay Sahoo are in prison for the last 2-3 months. So the first help that they need is to get their leaders out from the prison. They also want the outside world to assert pressure on the Government of Odisha and the Government of India to withdraw the project from that area. No amount of rationalization can justify the taking over of land and water in the pursuit of profit for POSCO at the cost of the many who depend on these resources. These rationalizations cannot be the answer to the pleas of emotionally shattered people living there. They have difficulty to understand why their way of life which required limited resources but gave them a lot of joy is not being appreciated, why the government is interested in sending them to slums. If they need to survive in their environment as they do now, the world will have to stand behind. There is not much time left. A company that has managed to take 50% of the land will do everything possible to take the remaining land as well. They will not hesitate to spend money and use force if that is demanded. Please treat this as an urgent call for response and action !!!