Congress promises to compensate the struggle-widows of Dhinkia Panchayat of Odisha

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Pramila Sahoo wife of late Narahari Sahoo who died in bomb explosion.

We will also withdraw the criminal cases filed against the villagers if voted to power, says Niranjan Patnaik, the state Congress President

 By Pradeep Baisakh

A long struggle of people since 2005 against the land acquisition by the Odisha government for the POSCO steel company in the three Panchayats of Dhinkia, Gadakujanga and Nuagaon of Jagatsingpur district of Odisha led to the eventual withdrawal of the POSCO company in 2017. By 2013, the government had already acquired 2700 acres of land by using force in the area. But some people gave away their land voluntarily too.  Several criminal cases were slapped against as many as 2500 villagers in these three Pachayats. As many as 500 people were arrested and jailed in 13 years of struggle. Many of them are out on bail now. But People are still making rounds in the courts to get bail, which is an overwhelming burden on them.

 JSW after POSCO

It may be reminded that on June 22, 2005 Pohang Steel Company (POSCO), a large South Korean corporation, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Government of Odisha.  With an investment of $12 billion (52 thousand crores in Indian rupees then) the company planned to build a 12 million tonnes per annum (MTPA) integrated steel plant, captive port in these three Panchayats in Paradip area of Jagatatsinghpur district. This was the highest FDI proposal to India.

After the withdrawal of POSCO in 2017, the state government has decided to give the land to JSW Utkal Steel Ltd (JUSL). It has approached to the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) which functions under the Ministry of Environment and Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) to transfer the forest clearance granted to POSCO India to JSW Utkal Steels Ltd (JUSL), which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Sajjan Jindal led JSW steels.

 Struggle-widows await compensation

In the struggle 5 people were killed in total in different points of time. Of which 4 villagers were killed due to bomb blasts. One person from outside the area was also killed.

Dula Mandal, an anti-POSCO activist from Govindpur village of Dhinkia Panchayat was killed in 2008 owing to bombs hurled by the pro-company groups. In another case, three anti-POSCO people the same village were also killed in 2013 in bomb explosion. There were contradictory versions on whose handiwork was that. As per the police it is they who were preparing the bombs and it exploded. While the anti-POSCO activists blamed it on the pro-company groups, the police never did proper investigation to bring out the truth.

While Sabita Mandal, wife of late Tapan (Dula) Mandal was given compensation due to intervention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the other families of the deceased never got any compensation. Pramila Sahoo, wife of Narahari Sahoo who died in the bomb blast says “my son discontinued his studies to work as daily labour to support the family after his father’s death. Some people came to enquire about my husband’s death, but we have not got any compensation. We are waiting for some compensation as running the family has become extremely difficult. I cannot marry my daughter, who is 25 year old as I do not have enough money.”

Other two persons who were killed in bomb blast are Manas Jena and Tarun (Nabuna) Mandal, whose wives are also awaiting compensation. Tapan and Tarun Mandal are two brothers. Jharana Jena, wife of Manas Jena says “After my husband died of bomb blast, I am now dependent on my parents to feed myself. I have no source of income. I cannot afford the cost of my son, who is now studying in her aunt’s house and she is bearing his education cost. I request the government to consider compensation for me.”

Speaking to this reporter Niranjan Patnaik, the state President of Odisha Pradesh Congress Committee promised to look into the matter once they come to power. “If Congress is voted to power, we will withdraw the criminal cases filed against the villagers and give compensation to the women who have lost their husbands in the struggle.”

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