Protesters clash with Odisha police near proposed JSW factory site; many injured – The New Indian Express

Through PTI

PARADIP: The site of JSW Steel’s proposed factory in Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha turned into a battleground on Friday as villagers clashed with police over the demolition of betel vines.

Villagers said at least 40 protesters, including children and the elderly, were injured as police charged them with batons, while an official said force personnel were also attacked , injuring five of them.

The incident happened near the village of Dhinkia, the epicenter of a movement against the establishment of a factory by South Korean steel major Posco a decade ago.

The government has planned to allocate land to JSW for its Rs 55,000 crore project from various villages except Dhinkia.

Residents of Dhinkia claimed they were detained by police in Mahala on their way to the nearby village of Patana to monitor the condition of their betel vines, which they claimed had been demolished by the authorities.

The administration created Mahala village after cutting out part of Dhinkia recently.

A section of villagers had clashed with police at least twice in the past month over this issue as well.

“We were stopped from going to our betel vines by the police. When the villagers said they had to go to the betel vines, the police resorted to lathi accusation without any provocation,” said said Debendra Swain, a former member of the Panchayat Samiti, before being taken into custody.

He claimed that 40 people had been injured during a police intervention.

Eight of them were children between the ages of 9 and 11 and 11 were over 60 years old.

Swain alleged that even the injured people were not taken to hospital by the police.

Jagatsinghpur Police Superintendent Akhileswar Singh, however, dismissed the allegations.

“Security personnel were attacked by the villagers. Our personnel tolerated this for long hours and then used minimal force. In the scuffle, around five police officers were injured,” the SP said.

Singh said there was no forced acquisition of betel vines in the proposed factory site as the villagers accepted compensation for them.

“We can show the documents bearing the signatures of the villagers who on their own accord accepted compensation and donated betel vines. Everything was done with the consent of the villagers,” he said.

Erasama Tehsildar, PN Das who was present at the site said that the villagers gave their consent to acquire their betel vines following which the administration demolished them.

There is no illegality, he asserted.

Five people, including Swain, have been arrested in connection with the alleged attack on police personnel.

Asked if he, as a magistrate, ordered the police to use truncheons on the villagers, Das replied, “I can’t say everything now.”

Meanwhile, tension reigned in the Dhinkia Gram Panchayat area following the violence.

Many men hide in a nearby jungle to avoid arrest.

Police also demolished three bamboo gates erected earlier by the population at entry points to Dhinkia village, Swain said.

As many as 15 platoons (450 people) of police have been deployed to the Dhinkia area due to the prevailing situation, an official said.

Opposition parties condemned the police action against the villagers.

BJP State Chairman Samir Mohanty said, “There is a gap between the administration and the people. The government cannot build any project by force. The project must be developed with the support of the people and not with the help of the police.”

Senior Congressman Lalatendu Mohapatra demanded a judicial inquiry into “police excesses”.

A decade ago, South Korean steel major Posco also offered to establish its mega steel plant project in the area, but failed in its bid due to strong protests from local villagers.