A lone man’s fight against POSCO turns into a mass struggle
Vol 2 | Issue 6
People’s resentment was already palpable when the government of Orissa signed an MoU with South Korean steel giant Pohang Iron and Steel Corporation (POSCO) on June 22, 2005 to start a project on 4000 acres of land, displacing people in three gram panchayats. But the man who mobilised the people and galvanised it into a mass movement was Abhay Sahu, a 54-year-old member of the CPI State Secretariat.
Armed with a propaganda sound set, Sahu started his campaign on a small rickshaw on July 11, 2005 and moved from village to village to make people aware of the possible consequences of the project if it ever comes up in the proposed area. The campaign could only fetch 18 supporters. But with them, Sahu launched one of the fiercest people’s movements in the country, that too against a corporate known to be one of the world’s top producers of steel.
Defiant: Abhay Sahu remains adamant in the face of threats to fight for the rights of villagers, who are to be displaced for the POSCO project
Bringing about five thousand families to his fold to protect the livelihood rights of about 20,000 people, Sahu built the movement in the name of POSCO Pratirodh Sangram Samiti (PPSS). A post graduate in English from Orissa’s oldest and most prestigious Ravenshaw College, Sahu has studied Marxism, Leninism and other ideologies relating to global communism in Berlin during 1988-89.
From the very beginning of his political career, which started during his college days, he has been associated with issues impacting the lives of people at the grass roots level. When POSCO was given the green signal for the project that would displace the villagers in Dhinkia, Nuagaon and Gada Kujanga of Jagatsinghpur district, Sahu asked: Why should there be an industrial project in the place that is quite comfortable with the flourishing agrarian economy?
Apart from the usual paddy crop in the Kharif season, the round-the-year betel leaves business and the seasonal cashew nuts business make the local farmers earn over Rs 1.5 lakh a year. Even a landless fisherman earns over 200 rupees a day through fishing for one or two hours in the local river. These people are very sure that the industry to come in the name of fast development would just grab and spoil their source of livelihood and force them to live in industrial colonies as industrial daily wage labourers.
The compensation package declared by the company and the jobs assured through Resettlement and Rehabilitation (R&R) policies of the government do not impress Sahu. He is more concerned about the losses that the villagers would incur if the project is allowed. “They will lose everything, their house, agricultural land, the forest land they are growing betel vines with, and the river mouth that has been providing a livelihood to thousands of landless fishing families,” he rues.
However, the fight against POSCO has not been easy. There had been some terrible attacks from the government to dismantle Sahu and force him to quit the movement. His family has been threatened, he has been arrested and cases have been heaped upon him while in custody. But Sahu still stands tall and stout against the interests of the corporate house just to protect the rights and livelihood of the people who love their land and the nature around them.
Sahu has two college going sons and the eldest is studying engineering. His wife is working as a teacher in a government school.