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Maharashtra Govt-Sponsored Oil Refinery Project in Konkan Faces Locals' Wrath

Locals fear environmental degradation, pollution, loss of livelihood and displacement if the oil refinery is set up.

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Situation remained tense in Ratnagiri district's Barsu-Solgaon on Wednesday, 26 April, as protesters stood firm against Maharashtra government-sponsored oil refinery and petrochemicals project proposed in the area. The government had deployed hundreds of police officers in the villages on Tuesday ahead of the soil testing survey. As the protesters tried to block the officers' way to their land, it led to a confrontation between them and the police.

The police detained many protesters on Tuesday, releasing them later in the night. Earlier, women protesters had blocked the way of the officials' vehicles by laying their bodies on the road.

Locals fear environmental degradation, pollution, loss of livelihood and displacement if the oil refinery is set up.

Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Vinayak Raut and Shiv Sena (UBT) MLA Vaibhav Naik visited Barsu on Wednesday to meet the protesters. A woman protester, in a public interaction in the presence of Raut, accused the police of manhandling them.

"We were going towards our land for its protection. All the police officers came and started beating us. Their stick touched my eyes too. (Pointing towards an old lady) they beat that grandma too, beat others with batons," she alleged.

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Speaking to mediapersons later, Raut said,

"We saw the police encampment that has been set up to suppress the voice of the locals. We saw the encampment, the stick-batons meant for suppressing the voice of Konkan's people. The police officers have been brought here from across the state. Who are they doing it for? Are these protesters not locals? The voice of the locals who are protesting is being suppressed."

Project Shifted to Barsu From Nanar After Similar Protests Earlier

The oil refinery and petrochemicals project called Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited is a 50:50 joint venture between three Indian oil companies – Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum, and two foreign companies – Saudi Aramco and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company. The project was mooted by the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena alliance government in 2015.

The Maharashtra government had first identified Nanar as the site for the project, which too, like Barsu, is in Ratnagiri's Rajapur taluka. However, the proposal faced intense protests from the locals.

In 2019, Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena forced the BJP to stop the project at Nanar. One of the conditions for the Shiv Sena-BJP pre-poll alliance ahead of the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections that year was that the project should be moved out of Nanar.

During the Maha Vikas Aghadi government, when Thackeray was the chief minister, the proposed site was shifted to Barsu-Solgaon area. In 2022, the Eknath Shinde government started taking steps towards land acquisition and other preliminary work. However, the new site too has proved controversial.

Locals fear environmental degradation, pollution, loss of livelihood and displacement if the oil refinery is set up.
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Industries Minister Slams Opposition Parties for Opposing the Project

Industries minister Uday Samant, who is also the guardian minister of Ratnagiri, took a press conference on Tuesday to address the escalating situation. He slammed the opposition parties for speaking against the project. He said that it was hypocritical of them to, on the one hand, allege that industrial projects like Vedanta-Foxconn and Tata-Airbus are going out of the state and then also oppose the oil refinery project.

He also flashed a letter in the press conference written by Uddhav Thackeray to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January 2022 in which Thackeray had suggested Barsu as the alternate site for the project.

Thackeray, who was the chief minister then, had written in the letter,

"Initially the project was proposed at Nanar in Ratnagiri district, Maharashtra. However, the project could not be executed due to Environment & Rehabilitation constraints. The State Government has now proposed a land parcel of around 13000 acres which will be made available for acquisition around village Barsu located at Rajapur Taluka in Ratnagiri District. Further to establish a Crude Oil Terminal, a land parcel of 2144 acres will be made available for acquisition in the village Nate located at Rajapur Talika in Ratnagiri District."

Thackeray had also mentioned in the letter that the project would hugely benefit Maharashtra's economy. "The project when implemented will contribute to the growth of GDP in the state of Maharashtra by around 8.5% and will significantly boost the economy of the nation," he had stated.

Samant questioned why Shiv Sena (UBT) was opposing the project now after Thackeray himself had spoken positively about it in his letter last year.

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Senior Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut responded to Samant's comments and the contents of the letter by saying that the party respects the opinion of the people.

"If the people have come ahead to protest and if their stance is that even if we die, we won't give our land, then the value of that letter is zero. Uddhav ji too has said the same ... Shiv Sena is on the side of people's sentiments."

He further said that Shiv Sena (UBT) is not against industrialisation.

"It is our stand that the projects should not go out of Maharashtra. We are not enemies of industry ... We are firm on the stand that labourers will survive only if the industry survives, employment will increase only if industries come to the state."

Locals Say Protests to Continue Until Project is Scrapped

Meanwhile, the activists The Quint spoke to said that the protests will continue until the project is scrapped.

The locals fear environmental degradation, pollution, loss of livelihood and displacement if the oil refinery is set up.

"Big refinery means large-scale pollution. But small refinery also means pollution. Therefore, we oppose the project no matter what its scale is," said Sachin Chavan who is involved in the protest-related activities.

Locals fear environmental degradation, pollution, loss of livelihood and displacement if the oil refinery is set up.

When asked about Samant's claim that many people have given their consent to land acquisition, Chavan alleged that many outsiders bought land in the Barsu-Solgaon region in the recent past, especially since March 2019. He said that the increased land transactions in the last three-four years was suspicious. "Did they know something?" he asked. It is these moneyed outsiders who have given consent to land acquisition for the project, he claimed.

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Incidentally, in February 2023, a local journalist, Shashikant Warishe, who had written extensively about the protests against the proposed oil refinery, was killed in a road accident after being hit by a car near Rajapur. The car belonged to a local land agent Pandharinath Amberkar, who was later arrested by the police. The investigation in the case is going on.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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