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Refinery shift splits Rajasthan Congress

CM moves it closer home,MLA wants it back,protests all over

At the centre of Rajasthan minister Hemaram Choudhary’s resignation,not yet accepted,is an upcoming oil refinery whose changing locations reflect the battle lines within the ruling Congress.

The refinery,in Barmer district,is the Ashok Gehlot government’s trophy project ahead of the polls. Initially planned at Lilala,it has been shifted to Pachpadra,50 km closer to Jodhpur,the CM’s home turf. This has allowed him to steal the thunder from party MLA Sonaram Choudhary,an influential Jat leader. The original site was entirely in Sonaram’s Baytu assembly constituency.

Sonaram responded by taunting Hemaram,legislator from Gudamalani,also in Barmer. He mocked the revenue minister for “failing the locals by not being able to retain the site in Lilala”,leading to the resignation. Gehlot,who hasn’t accepted the resignation,has called it “a local issue that is being politicised”.

“The CM arbitrarily shifted the site. I am an elected representative here but no one consulted me,” Sonaram says. His son Raman has been organising protests for bringing the refinery back,but admits the protesters aren’t farmers whose land would need to be acquired in Lilala.

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Farmers who do own land in Lilala,in fact,tell The Indian Express they don’t want to surrender it. They have been carrying out a separate agitation,first against the refinery and now fearing it would be shifted back.

“This is our ancestral property and we have very good crops of guar when the monsoon is good,” says Rupa Ram,who is leading the agitation. “Since 2004,when the refinery was first announced by then chief minister Vasundhara Raje,we have been fearing forcible acquisition. We are relieved it has been shifted to Pachpadra.”

“Ever since the refinery was announced in March,banks have stopped giving us loans as they think we will lose our land soon. Even NREGA jobs have stopped here. Indira Awas Yojana funds for renovating my house,too,have stopped,” says Vardha Ram.

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“We are still worried if Sonaram manages to bring it back to Lilala,” says Magga Ram. “Sonaram bought 67 bighas in Lilala to benefit from the project and is therefore upset about the shift.”

Raman,the MLA’s son and Youth Congress president for the Lok Sabha constituency,handed out documents stating that the land his father bought is under the Roopal Foundation Trust,named after the legislator’s deceased daughter. “The land was bought about two years ago when there was no talk of the refinery. The state government has already cleared a college to be set up on the plot,” he says.

Raman,who claims to be fighting for the local youth,has been holding a dharna outside the district collector’s office in Barmer. He admits these are proxy protesters. Only two of them,Jhunjha Ram and Bhuma Ram,claim they do own land in Lilala and are ready to give it up at whatever rate the government decides.

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“The farmers who are willing to give up their land are busy working on their fields. So we have got others protesting on their behalf,” Raman says. “Most of the farmers have told us in writing that they want the refinery in Lilala and are ready to give up their land at reasonable rates. Those who are objecting own only 1,800 bighas of the total 10,000 bighas earmarked for the refinery.

“Everyone in Barmer wants the refinery in Lilala. If it comes up in Pachpadra,all activity related to the refinery will be controlled from Jodhpur,which will be the nearest city and airport to the site. Barmer [the town will lose significantly.”

“Barmer [the district is spread over 200-300 km and shifting the site by 40 km will not make any difference,” says Barmer MP Harish Choudhary.

“During land acquisition,we were sure of one thing: that farmers should not be forced to give up their land. In Pachpadra the refinery is coming up on government land and there are no land acquisition issues,” he says. “In the last few months I have got requests from both sides,farmers who wanted to sell their land and those who have refused to part with it. But now the issue has been given political colour,first by some BJP workers and now by our own people who are politicising it.”

First published on: 08-08-2013 at 12:15:55 am
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