By Nachiketa Desai
In a massive armed assault using crude bombs, bullets and batons, the Orissa police cracked down on over 1,500 villagers staging a peaceful sit-in dharna since January last against their imminent displacement to make way for South Korean mega corp Posco’s 12 million ton Greenfield steel plant in the coastal district of Jagatsinghpur, Orissa state, India.
More than 100 people, five of them seriously, including women and children were injured in police action which began since the crack of the dawn on Saturday (May 15) with the arrest of CPI MP from Jagatsinghpur Bibhu Prasad Tarai while he was on his way to the core area of the proposed steel plant site to express solidarity with the agitating people of six villages whose 4004 acres of land has been acquired by the government for the Korean steel major.
Tension in the area has been mounting since yesterday with the arrival of 25 platoons of armed police to Balitutha, the entrance point to these villages where over 1500 villagers had set up a blockade and were on a sit-in dharna. That the police had arrived to launch an offensive was anticipated by all because only two days ago it had opened fire in Kalinganagar, killing one person and injuring many, to evacuate agitating villagers for Tata’s proposed steel plant there.
In both Kalinganagar and Jagatsinghpur, the villagers have been carrying out peaceful agitation against their displacement for the last five years. In order to create a division among the agitating people, the government and the companies had bought over a section of the local population to their side and shifted them to rehabilitation colonies.
It was with the help of these pro-project villagers that the police had carried out a raid in Kalinganagar on March 30 last, pillaging houses and burning stocks of foodgrain. Using a similar tactic, the police made the pro-Posco villagers to lob crude bombs made of kerosene and petrol to create panic and use it as a ruse to launch a massive offensive against the protesters sitting on dharna.
People of six villages, who have organized under the banner of Posco Pratirodh Sangram Samiti, had blocked the road at Balitutha, the key entrance point to these villages since January. On Saturday morning the district magistrate of Jagatsinghpur started issuing warning from a hand-held loudspeaker that the police would use force if the villagers did not lift the blockade and disperse.
According to the leaders of the Posco Pratiodh Sangram Samiti, police first fired teargas shells and set on fire the tent under which the protestors were sitting on dharna and then chased the people away from the dharna site at Balitutha. “More than 100 villagers were injured by the police who used batons fired rubber bullets. We shall continue our democratic mass resistance, come what may,” said Prasahant Paikray, spokesperson of PPSS.
The district administration has imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC to facilitate the government undertake survey of the land in these villages with a view to finally handing over these to the Posco. Police has also arrested Congress leaders Umesh Swain and Jayanta Biswal along with the CPI MP Bibhu Prasad Tarai. CPI has planned a protest rally to be addressed by senior party leader A B Bardhan on May 19.