Reported by Gadadhar Panda
Jagatsinghpur, Mar 9:
Almost 10 years after the Odisha government signed the memorandum of understanding (MoU) with POSCO to build a $12 billion steel plant near here, the fate of both the plant and the farmers whose land was acquired for it remains uncertain.
As the project keeps getting stalled over issues such as land acquisition, opposition from locals, water supply, environmental clearance, mine allocation etc, local farmers who gave up their land for a meagre amount expecting employment in the plant are the worst hit.
Betel vine farmers, who used to earn more than Rs 1 lakh every year, have only received a one time reimbursement for their land lost and nothing more. Farmers of villages such as Gadakujang, Noliasahi, Bhuyanpala, Dhinkia, Gobindpur and Nuagaon are the worst hit. The condition of labourers who used to work in those vineyards is even worse.
When we reached the Noliasahi village for a ground report, we saw hundreds of farmers and labourers living in extreme poverty due to loss of jobs in the village that houses 700 people belonging to 135 families.
The reimbursement they received for their land at the rate of Rs 12,000 per decimal has long been spent. Having given up their land, they can neither go back to farming nor find a job in the absence of the plant.
“The betel vineyard labourers are not getting their promised dues,” complained the head of the village Jibanlal Behera and added that, “The administration had assured to compensate the labourers at the rate of Rs 2250 per vineyard per month till the plant becomes functional. However, they received their dues only once in 2010,” he said.
After the vineyards were demolished to acquire the land in 2010, the administration has turned a blind eye on its promise and has never paid the labourers who lost their jobs. 172 labourers of Noliasahi haven’t been paid in the last four years. The condition in other villages is no better.
Some of the farmers are yet to receive the compensation even for their betel vineyard.
While the plant has taken away the means of livelihood of almost 2, 000 families under three panchayats, there are 3, 000 betel vineyards lying dead since the last five years.
“If POSCO plant must come up, let it be done fast. Otherwise, the administration should let us go back to betel leaf farming,” complained a villager of Noliasahi.
It may be noted that as per the MoU signed with POSCO on July 22, 2005, the plant was to have gone on stream by 2011. But a second MoU was signed in Aril 2012 since work on the plant could not be completed by the stipulated time.
While more than 2, 100 acres of land has already been acquired in these 10 years, the construction is yet to start.