Social activist Medha Patkar faced massive protests at Dhinkia village in Odisha’s Jagatsinghpur district, where a stir over a JSW steel project had broken out recently, with locals asking her to “go back” as she apparently tried to make her way to the residence of a jailed agitator, police sources said.
Patkar, along with those accompanying her, had to return from the site of the protest on Monday as villagers thwarted her entry to Dhinkia, which is also the epicenter of the anti-displacement movement against South Korean steel major POSCO.
Debendra Swain, an activist who had spearheaded protests against the JSW steel project over concerns of displacement, was arrested in January amid clashes between the police and the demonstrators.
Patkar, talking to reporters, said that she wanted to meet the family members of Swain, but a section of the locals claimed that the team of activists was there to seek feedback from them about the JSW project. The social activist also said that she had taken permission from local police for the visit, an assertion rebuffed by Additional SP, Jagatsinghpur, Nimai Sethhi.
“The police was not informed about Patkar’s visit. We came to know about it only later. The police would not have been responsible, had something untoward happened. Patkar should have sought a written permission,” the ASP insisted.
Prominent anti-POSCO movement leader Sisir Mohapatra, who was among those raising ‘go back’ slogans, said locals do not want her to interfere in their lives.
“We had been facing the ire of climate change over the past few years. Cyclones and floods leave our villages devastated. If JSW sets up its steel plant and develops the place, villagers would be spared the scourge of natural disasters,” Mohapatra maintained.
Dhinkia, where betel leaves are produced in large quantities and sold to other parts of the state, had seen numerous protests against industrialisation by locals, who apprehended that the vines, their source of livelihood, if destroyed to make space for the plant, would spell doom for the village.
Mohapatra added that the Jindal firm has assured them of employment and timely compensation.
Earlier in the year, chaos had broken out in Dhinkia as the police tried to stop clashes between locals supporting the project and those opposing it, including Swain.
Some locals, who had back then opposed the project, said on the condition of anonymity that those who stood by Swain before his arrest seemed to have changed their stance, allegedly fearing police action. (PTI)