Bhubaneswar: Even as UPA government at the Centre appeared keen on the implementation of Posco steel project in Odisha, Chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Friday said the Congress leaders in the state were opposing it.

"The stand taken by Congress leaders in Odisha over the Posco project puzzles me. Posco project was initiated by the Central Government headed by Congress," Patnaik said while replying to an adjournment motion debate in the assembly on the violence near Posco's plant site.

Though the debate was on Wednesday's violence between the anti-Posco agitators and a private contractor that left one person dead near the project site at Paradip, he was virtually silent on the incident and spoke about Congress and UPA government instead.

Terming the Posco steel plant project as the country's largest Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), Patnaik said it was being reviewed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his office on a regular basis.

"In fact, I was called to Delhi during Republic Day celebration of 2010 to discuss this issue with the President of South Korea at Rastrapati Bhawan," Patnaik said adding he had discussed the matter with the prime minister on August 24, 2010 during a visit to Delhi.

He recalled he was invited to the garden party at Rastrapati Bhawan and honoured by the Central Government so that he (Patnaik) would assure the South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak about the proper implementation of the mega steel plant.

"No other chief minister was invited to Rastrapati Bhawan on Republic Day celebration that day," Patnaik said adding even Prime Minister during his visit to Suoth Korea discussed the Posco issue with that country's president, he said.

Patnaik told the assembly "On many occassions, the Prime Minister had raised the matter with me. Even during lunch on the ocassion of meeting of chief ministers at Vigyan Bhavan, the Prime Minister had raised the matter with me."

The Chief Minister's made his statement in the backdrop of Congress MLAs on Thursday paralysing the business of the assembly by creating pandemonium over the Posco issue following the December 14 violence.

The house could not conduct other business on Thursday as Congress MLAs demanded a special debate over the violence.

The agitating opposition members, however, cooperated on Thursday after Speaker Pradip Amat allowed an adjournment motion debate on the subject.

Leader of the Opposition Bhupinder Singh, however, claimed outside the assembly that Congress was not against the Posco project. "We oppose the manner in which the state government is handling issues relating to the project." 

Earlier, demanding a CBI probe into the killing of a person in the December 14 violence near the Posco plant site at Paradip and arrest of the private contractor executing coastal road work, opposition Congress walked out of the assembly even as Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik promised strong action against those involved in the crime.

"The Chief Minister is not giving replies to our questions raised during the debate," said Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh(Cong) leading the walkout.

The issue relating to prevailing tension and violence on December 14 was raised through an adjournment motion where members cutting across the party lines demanded arrest of the contractor Bapi Sharkel of Paradip Paribavan Company.

"Who is this Bapi Sharkel and which politician patronising him? He has raised a private militia in Paradip region and is creating terror among the people," Congress chief whip Prasad Harichandan said alleging that the police deliberately did not go to the clash site when 'private militia' were attacking innocent people opposing the project.

As local police was party to the clash, only a CBI probe could unveil the truth behind the killing, he said.

Accusing the local police of Kujang in Jagatsinghpur district of being part of the consipiracy to attack the villagers, Harichandan sought to konw why the police force was not deployed despite tension prevailing in the area.
 
Ruling BJD members and former ministers Damodar Rout and Bishnu Charan Das also demanded arrest of the contractor whom they accused was instrumental in the December 14 clash.

"What preventive measures were taken to avoid such a clash which claimed the life of an innocent person and left many others injured?" Harichandan asked.

The Congress MLAs also questioned the awarding of the work for the coastal road linking the steel plant site without floating tenders.

"We demand arrest of Sharkel under National Security Act as he has been creating problems regularly," said Congress member N K Das, while BJP legisture party leader K V Singhdeo questioned Naveen Patnaik's slogan of 'peaceful industrilisation'.

Rejecting opposition allegation, the Chief Minister said both district police and the intelligence wing were keeping a close watch over the situation. "Eleven platoons of Odisha Special Armed Force (OSAP) and 2 platoons of district armed police force had been deployed in the area."

Admitting that the construction company had informed the police before starting work on the coastal road project, Patnaik said the police force took time to reach at the clash site due to the large number of sand mounds in the area.

(Agencies)