India’s Odisha state resumed land acquisitions to enable Posco, Asia’s third-largest steelmaker, to begin building a $12 billion steel plant, a project delayed for more than seven years by farmer protests and bureaucracy.
The government of the eastern state yesterday started the process of procuring 700 acres, adding to the 2,000 acres already bought, Satya Kumar Mallick, the district collector of Jagatsinghpur, the site of the plant, said today in a phone interview. The land will be handed over to the South Korean steelmaker once the acquisition is completed, he said.
“The process is moving slowly and may take time because of some opposition,” Mallick said from Gobindpur village, where the acquisition is on. “The whole process may take more than three to four months.”
The factory, billed as the biggest direct foreign investment in India, has been delayed because farmers have refused to vacate the state-owned land they have occupied for generations. A resumption of the acquisition process signals the government’s commitment to revive stalled projects and an economy that the finance ministry forecasts may grow at the weakest pace in a decade.
Local farmers and villagers, including women and children, yesterday protested against the proposed steel mill outside Gobindpur village as the state team prepared to enter the proposed site for land acquisition, Prasanth Paikare, a spokesman for opposition group Posco Prathirodh Sangram Samiti, said today in a phone interview. A large number of policemen used force to curb the peaceful protests, he said.
“We continue to oppose the Posco project,” Paikare said. “The farmers and the local people have started protests against the state government’s move to acquire land forcibly and this will continue.”
Posco is still waiting for a permit from the environment ministry before it can start building the plant. India’s National Green Tribunal in March suspended an earlier clearance from the ministry, asking for another review of environmental concerns and recommendations to mitigate any adverse impact before final approval.