Jagatsinghpur (Orissa): The Orissa Government on Friday deployed 300 armed policemen at the proposed site of the South Korean steel major Pohang Iron and Steel Co (POSCO) in Jagatsinghpur following clashes between opposing groups on Thursday and prevailing tension in the area. Initially, around 200 policemen were deployed at Balitutha, in the district of Jagatsinghpur, some 120 kilometres from state capital Bhubaneswar. However, the numbers have since been increased as tensions prevail in the region, a senior district police official told
reporters. At least 17 people, including five women, were injured after two opposing groups of the project clashed at Balitutha.
The clash erupted when around 100 people backing the project attacked a camp of protesters for rejecting a panel set up by local leaders on Wednesday to bring the situation back to normal in the region. The protesters, also numbering around 100 including women, retaliated. Both groups reportedly hurled bombs. A tent set up by the protesters was burnt, police said.
Balitutha is the entry point to the proposed POSCO site. The protesters had blocked the road in the village to prevent the entry of the police, POSCO and government officials to the site over the past two months. A week ago, the protesters had imposed a 'ban' on the entry of the pro-project people to the site. The protesters were sitting on the road armed with sticks, axes and other weapons.
"The government is using goons and anti-social elements to suppress the voice of the poor. It will be responsible for all the consequences," anti-project leader Abhaya Sahu told reporters. More than 80 cases have been registered against anti-POSCO activists over the past year while 46 are against their leader Sahu. To extend support and sympathy to the villagers opposing the project, a group of leaders belonging to Communist Party of India led by its leader Narayan Reddy visited the region on Friday.
The area has witnessed a series of clashes since the steel company and the Orissa government signed a deal in June 2005 for a $12 billion plant. The plant is to come up near the Paradeep port by 2016. Those protesting the project say the plant will displace over 20,000 people
from around 15 villages and ruin their livelihood. POSCO officials say it would affect only 500 families but would create thousands of jobs.