Struggle against continued persecution of villagers opposing land acquisition for Jindal Steel Works

The residents of Dhinkia village in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district organised a ‘Black Day’ at the PMG Square in Bhubaneswar on January 14, 2024, on the second anniversary of the brutal attack on them by armed police.

The protestors recalled that around 30 villagers — including 20 women and children — sustained injuries on January 14, 2022, when 12 platoons of police lathi-charged the agitating villagers, who were protesting against land acquisition for the Jindal Steel Works (JSW) Ltd. The protestors had set up barriers to protect their betel vineyards from acquisition by the company officials under police protection. The betel vineyards are an important source of livelihood for the people living there.

It may be recalled that more than 12 years after Korean steel company POSCO signed a memorandum of understanding with the Odisha government to build the largest integrated steel plant in India, it had to abandon its project in the face of popular resistance from a small seaside village, Dhinkia. POSCO was forced to withdraw its plans in 2017. The government of Odisha subsequently handed over the community land to the Indian steel monopoly company, the JSW Utkal Steel Ltd. (JUSL) in September 2018, to set up steel and cement plants, a power plant and a port.

The people of Dhinkia have continued their protest against land acquisition for JUSL. The Jindal Pratirodh Sangram Samiti is leading these protests.

The State of Odisha has responded to the protests with severe repression over the past two years, in order to terrorise the people into giving up their struggle. A former Panchayat Samiti member of Dhinkia and one of the leaders of the agitation against the JSW project, has been in jail since the last two years. Another leading activist has also been in and out of jail during this period.

The police have occupied the three Village Panchayats of Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gada Kujang since January 2022, spreading terror and insecurity among the people. About 100 false criminal cases based on fabricated evidence have been lodged against about 1000 people in the Dhinkia Panchayat. This is in addition to the 300 false criminal cases against 2000 people, which are still pending from the time of the Anti-POSCO agitation prior to 2017, when POSCO was forced to withdraw from the site.

Several leaders of the agitation have been repeatedly arrested and refused bail, on the basis of fabricated charges. According to latest reports, the police have charged 15 villagers with the most baseless allegations.  Their attempt is to criminalise the protest and crush the people’s resistance to the land acquisition for JUSL.

All appeals to the Odisha state government by the protestors, to end the reign of terror unleashed on them, have fallen on deaf ears so far. The agitated people of Dhinkia are mobilising support from people’s organisations across the country, for their right to defend their land and livelihood and to end the police brutality on them.

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