IN 17 villages of Ratnagiri district in Konkan region, work on the West Coast Refinery has come to a standstill. The 42,000 notices for land survey and acquisition which were served to families have been put on hold. Having promised to complete the project by 2025, the Devendra Fadnavis government has yielded to pressure from alliance partner Shiv Sena and put it on the backburner till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Assiduously wooed by the BJP, the Sena had laid setting aside the refinery as one of the conditions for the tie-up. The Fadnavis government has now promised to ensure public consensus before going ahead with the project.
Sena leaders, led by MP Vinayak Raut and MLA Rajan Salvi, have been campaigning against the Rs 3 lakh crore project saying it would bring in outsiders into the Konkan area. This fits in with the party’s sons-of-the-soil pitch, and it hopes this will also help it ward off the challenge posed by Narayan Rane’s Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha (MSP).
Announced in 2015, the West Coast Refinery project promises employment to one lakh people, with the government choosing coastal Konkan to boost development in the region. In 2017, Saudi Arabi-based Aramco and India’s Ratnagiri Refinery & Petrochemicals signed an MoU with equal stakes in the project. The project will require 14,675 acres, of which only 126 acres is government land.
The three districts of the Konkan region, Ratnagiri, Sindhudurg and Raigad, include two Lok Sabha and 12 Assembly seats. In the 2014 polls that the Sena fought in alliance with the BJP, the Sena had won both the Lok Sabha seats. In the Assembly polls the same year, when the parties fought separately, the Sena had won six of the 12 seats, the NCP 3, the Congress 1, and the Peasants and Workers Party 2.
However, while the Fadnavis government has said it is exploring alternative sites for the project, it is unlikely to shift the refinery in a hurry. The Konkan Jankalyan Pratishthan (Rajapur), Janhit Sangharsh Samiti (Nanar) and Green Refinery Project Coordination committee (Nanar) members have met Fadnavis opposing such a move.
Treading the middle path, Fadnavis has said he would not take any decision without factoring in public sentiments. Officials in the state government pointed out, “The CM had worked hard to get Asia’s first green refinery project to Maharashtra. There was tough competition from other states”
Janhit Sangharsh Samiti president Ramkrishna Pednekar said, “Any attempt to relocate the project outside Konkan would be injustice to the people of the region… It should ascertain how many people are against and then take a final decision.” The committee has demanded Rs 1 crore per hectare compensation and model houses for those displaced.
One of those displaced, Nilesh Patankar, said he prefers the jobs to the land lost. “I will lose 64 acres of ancestral land. But I have given my consent as the project will bring 20,000 permanent jobs and at least one lakh jobs during construction.” He also pointed out that cultivation on the hard rocky land is not economically viable.
Realising this, the Sena has been stressing that its opposition is not to the refinery. Uddhav Thackeray said last week, “I am not against the refinery… Our only concern is that it should not be against people’s wishes.”
However, a Sena minister from Konkan said, “In the Lok Sabha elections, we will highlight our anti-refinery stand to consolidate our vote base.” Industries Minister Subash Desai, who belongs to the Sena, also said, “We are against the refinery. The notification for land acquisition has been struck down.”
A senior BJP leader warned that these double standards could end up hurting the Sena. “In the past Sena leaders endorsed the refinery as a mega-project which would help development in the region.” Now, it is for them to convince youths otherwise, he said.
The Sena also has an eye out for Rane’s party. Its traditional rival in the region, Rane will do his best to cut into the Sena’s votes.