In 2005, when Posco, the world’s fourth-largest steelmaker, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Odisha government in India to set up a 12-million-tonne-capacity steel project in Jagatsinghpur district, it attracted global media attention for being the biggest foreign direct investment in India, at that point of time, at $12 billion (Rs 52,000 crores). It was heralded as the project that would set Odisha – at the bottom of several development indices – on a high-growth trajectory and make India a steel superpower.
Twelve years and several twists and turns later – largely in the shape of public resistance to the project as well as regulatory hurdles – the South Korean steel major has officially withdrawn from the project. On Saturday, Odisha’s Industries Minister Debi Prasad Mishra told reporters in Bhubaneswar that Posco had offered to surrender the land it had acquired because of its inability to start work on the project.
“The [state-owned] Industrial Infrastructure Development Corporation had acquired 2,700 acres of land for the proposed Posco project,” Mishra said. “The state government in a letter had asked Posco to clear dues of Rs 82 crore towards cess. In its reply, the company has said it is not interested in taking possession of the rest of the acquired land and paying the remaining amount. It has requested the government to take back the acquired land handed over to it.”
With this development, the net result of the Odisha government’s most ambitious industrialisation dream is lakhs of felled trees, thousands of promised jobs that never materialised, and frustrated villagers staring at an uncertain future.