(CNN) -- Hundreds of villagers formed a human shield in eastern India Saturday to protest land acquisition for a $12 billion steel plant, but authorities insist they still are able to clear forests for the project without using force.
Devdutt Singh, police superintendent of Orissa state's Jagatsinghpur district, told CNN some 500 to 600 protesters had assembled near the site for the long-delayed project by South Korea's Pohang Iron & Steel Co. Ltd.
His claims about the number of demonstrators could not be independently verified.
He said protesters were misled by what he called vested interests.
Singh said the government owns more than 80% of the land earmarked for the plant and that sufficient compensation had been awarded for its procurement.
Protest leaders, Singh insisted, were using women and children as shields to keep authorities from acquiring land. "They don't want any industrialization at all," he added.
He explained land acquisition has been completed in five of the seven village areas. The latest outbreak of anger was concentrated in the remaining two, Singh said.
Forest clearance for the steel mill is still being done despite demonstrations around the scene of the sit-ins, he said.
"If they are adamant they will not allow it (land acquistion), we are also adamant we will not use force," Singh said. The situation, so far, is peaceful, but he added any attacks on police may provoke action.
Authorities need to acquire 4,000 acres for the POSCO mill, billed as India's biggest foreign investment project. It has been stuck since 2005 because of protests and environmental issues.
Villagers fear losing their forest-based livelihood if the plant is built.
Indian environment officials gave their clearance for the project earlier this year.