Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ fresh call to revive the oil refinery project in Konkan’s Nanar village has found few takers in the region with many locals claiming that they are resolute in their opposition to the Rs3 lakh-crore project.
“We don’t want it, won’t let it happen. Fadnavis might have made the statement due to some misunderstanding. So, it doesn’t affect us,” says Girish Gunaji Mulam of Taral village in Rajapur Assembly constituency. Mulam, who would have lost around 50 acres of his land to the project, claims there is “public resentment in the area against the refinery”. Rajapur constituency is one of the five Vidhan Sabha constituencies in Ratnagiri district.
The planned facility — Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical Limited — was cleared by the Centre and state governments in December 2015, and was set to pass through 14,000 hectares spread across 17 villages in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts. It was set to come up as 50:50 joint venture between RRPCL — its investors were Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum — and a partnership between the Saudi-owned Aramco and UAE’s National Oil Company.
The government had initiated the process of land survey when it was shelved suddenly before the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year over “environmental concerns” expressed by the Shiv Sena. The Sena, in fact, had made it a condition of its pre-poll alliance with the BJP ahead of the Lok Sabha election.
In September, Fadnavis had once again said the state government wants Asia’s biggest and first green oil refinery to be built at Nanar. Local villagers, however, hope that the project never takes off on their land.
Taral’s sarpanch Balkrishan Haldankar said people were optimistic that it would be difficult to revive the refinery project since it was cancelled through a government notification. A Shiv Sena worker, Haldankar’s 12-acre land would have been affected by the proposed project. “For us, the issue is over and we don’t feel that project would come back.”
Former sarpanch of Nanar, Majid Bhatkar, also the head of Refinery Virodhi Shetkari-Machchimar Sangathana, said the project would have destroyed the agricultural land and fishing in the coastal area of the belt. “CM’s statement came a day after Sena chief spoke on Aarey issue. So, it was a political statement,” Bhatkar adds.
The 14 villages that would have been affected by the proposed project in Ratnagiri district are governed by eight gram panchayats of which seven are under the Shiv Sena, while Nanar has a Congress sarpanch, Omkar Desai.
Interestingly, several workers belonging to other political parties in the region, are backing the Sena in the upcoming polls for its stand on the project.
“We had decided at the outset that we will support the party that would help us to cancel the project. Though I’m a Congress worker, I’m working for the Sena candidate here. When we formed the organisation to oppose the project, it was decided to keep our political affiliations aside and work to cancel the project. All those who are associated with us are working for Sena,” Samant, an active member of Refinery Virodhi Shetkari-Machchimar Sangathana, says.
Unlike in the Lok Sabha polls, Samant pointed out that the refinery was no longer an issue in the Assembly polls. “At least, there was one candidate who was contesting the Lok Sabha polls in support of the refinery, but he didn’t get more than 300 votes from the 14 villages,” he says. Pandharinath Amberkar, a supporter of the Nanar refinery, contested the Lok Sabha polls as an Independent candidate and, in all, got 3,257 votes.
In Rajapur Assembly constituency, sitting Sena legislator Rajal Salvi is pitted against Congress’ Avinash Lad and MNS’ Avinash Saundalkar. Confident to win a third term, Salvi says, “After the CM’s statement, we immediately held a meeting in the villages following directions from party chief Uddhav Thackeray to see whether there was any change in the minds of people. But, there was none… We are sure that it (the project) won’t and the people from the 14 villages will support me in polls.”