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Days after violence over steel plant, Odisha village tense, barricades put up to block outsiders

🔴 A faceoff between villagers and police had turned violent on Friday, leading to nearly 50 villagers and 15 policemen sustaining injuries. Police also arrested five villagers.

By: Express News Service | Bhubaneswar |
Updated: January 17, 2022 3:59:42 am
JSW Utkal Steel Limited, led by industrialist Sajjan Jindal, has proposed to establish a 13.2 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) capacity steel plant at an estimated cost of around Rs 55,000 crore, with the administration saying that the land was transferred to JSW Steel in 2017. (Representational)

Two days after violence broke out over a proposed steel plant, Dhinkia panchayat in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district stayed calm but tense with villagers erecting barricades to prevent outsiders from entering the village.

A faceoff between villagers and police had turned violent on Friday, leading to nearly 50 villagers and 15 policemen sustaining injuries. Police also arrested five villagers.

JSW Utkal Steel Limited, led by industrialist Sajjan Jindal, has proposed to establish a 13.2 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) capacity steel plant at an estimated cost of around Rs 55,000 crore, with the administration saying that the land was transferred to JSW Steel in 2017.

A decade ago, Dhinkia was the site of major protests which eventually led to the scrapping of a steel project by South Korean steel major POSCO.

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“This is our land, we have protected it before, we will protect it again. We will not let any industrial set-up here on our fertile land. No amount of compensation can match the generation of hard work and toil put into the land,” a villager from Dhinkia, Ramesh Swain said.

The villagers alleged that since Thursday, police had been forcibly destroying their betel vines to set up the steel plant. “Those among us who resisted were put behind bars. On Friday, police used force on us as we strengthened our protest,” Swain said.

Police, meanwhile, maintained that the villagers had gathered in large numbers, violating COVID norms and that they also allegedly assaulted personnel.

Additional SP of Jagatsinghpur Umesh Panda said villagers had not taken permission for the assembly. “When they were restricted at Dhinkia, the villagers misbehaved and assaulted police personnel. Razors were used to attack police personnel following which we resorted to lathicharge,” Panda said. “Five persons were arrested and have been sent to judicial custody. Many of them also fled the village. Further investigation is underway,” he added. Around five platoons of police continue to be deployed in the area.

“The land in question was first acquired by Posco, but the project was shelved. After almost 10 years they cannot come to us saying that a new industrial unit will be set up without consulting us. The betel vineyards are a source of income for the five villages under this panchayat. You cannot just hand over 2,000 acres of fertile land for establishing an industry without our consent,” said Manorama Khatua, an activist from the Jindal Pratirodh Sangram.

“The land in question was transferred to JSW Steel in 2017 itself. The company has also charted out its compensation scheme for those who will lose their lands and livelihoods. Many villagers have also agreed to come on board but some are still reluctant,” said Kanhu Charan Dhir, Additional District Magistrate of Paradip.

The village has been on tenterhooks since December last year after protests emerged over the demarcation of Mahala, a newly created revenue village in the panchayat. The villagers had alleged that the demarcation was done to divide the village and scatter the villagers in order to derail the movement against the proposed steel plant. The new steel plant is expected to be connected with the company’s proposed 30 MTPA iron-ore grinding plant in Keonjhar district via a 312 km-long slurry pipeline.

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