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Monday, Oct 21, 2019

2019 Lok Sabha polls: Nanar locals divided over oil refinery project

Even as the opposition led to the project being scrapped, those supporting it have put up a candidate in the fray, even at the risk of social boycott

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Apr 17, 2019 08:12 IST
Swapnil Rawal
Swapnil Rawal
Hindustan Times
         

swapnil.rawal@hindustantimes.com

Even as political parties, especially the Shiv Sena, are riding high on the success of moving the proposed mega oil refinery project out of Nanar, locals are now divided over the issue.

While villagers in Ratnagiri district, where the project was supposed to come up, were strongly opposing it, several farmers in 14 villages in the area want the project back. In an attempt to put the refinery back on track, locals, under the banner of Konkan Jankalyan Pratisthan, have put up an independent candidate in the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg Lok Sabha constituency against Sena’s sitting MP Vinayak Raut, Congress’ Navinchandra Bandivadekar and Nilesh Rane of the Maharashtra Swabhimani Paksha, all of whom are against the project.

Announced in 2015, the West Coast Refinery project promised employment to 1 lakh people. In 2017, Saudi Arabia-based Aramco signed an MoU with three state-owned companies – Indian Oil Corporation Limited, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited. The Ratnagiri Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd (RRPCL), planned over an expanse of over 15,000 acres in Maharashtra’s Konkan, would have displaced farmers and fisherfolk from 17 villages –14 villages in Ratnagiri and three in neighbouring Sindhudurg along the western coast. Of the total land required, only 126 acres is government land.

THE SUPPORT

Nilesh Patankar, a chartered accountant in Rajapur, is one of those displaced by the project. Patankar, who would lose 64 acres of ancestral land, said he would prefer development of Konkan and jobs for locals. He was one of the initial supporters of the project and is one of the brains behind the Konkan Jankalyan Pratisthan. According to Patankar, many projects have been proposed in Konkan, but most of them were scrapped owing to protests. “Seaworld project, which would boost tourism in the region, has suffered; I-Log Port has faced protests; so has Nanar… the list goes on. If this continues, Konkan will miss out on development. There is no employment in the region today; people are migrating. This can change with such projects, including Nanar,” he said.

The Pratisthan’s foray in electoral politics is a way to showcase support for the project. Pandharinath V Amberkar, 39, one of the project-affected persons, said many are supporting the project, but are “quiet” either due to political affiliations or to avoid social backlash. Those who are supporting the project say cultivation of mangoes and cashewnuts is “not economically viable anymore”. Anant Desai, a mango cultivator in Taral village, said, “I have 60 acres of land, with a little more than 550 mango trees. The expenses in a year are about ₹5 lakh and the earnings are dropping year after year, along with the yield. It is not economically viable.”

A Sena functionary, Vidya Rane, from Katradevi village said, “I will not speak my mind till the elections.”

Amberkar said, “We have tried to convince people to have a discussion with us, to no avail. There are many who have supported us. We have taken consent letters from people owning around 5,000 acres.”

Patankar said, “After the Mumbai elections are done on April 29, we will hand over the consent letters to the CM. Apart from the villages that were originally affected by the villages, adjoining villages have offered to give up their land. So they can rework the plan and build the refinery here.”

Villages, which have coexisted despite religious and caste divide, are split over the oil refinery, with those supporting the project facing social boycott. “As I am in support of the project, farm labourers will not work in my mango fields. The supporters are not invited to village gatherings and people don’t attend funerals in their family,” said Desai.

THE PROTEST

Since its announcement, the project has been marred with protests and opposition from fishermen, farmers and locals, who fear losing land and livelihood. There were fears that the plantations of the famous Alphonso mango, which grows in Ratnagiri, would be hit. An outfit, Konkan Refinery Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, of project-affected persons was floated to oppose the project. Apart from fisherfolk and farmers, those from adjoining villages, too, joined the protest rallies, fearing the refinery would increase the temperature in the area, which would affect their mango cultivation too.

The Konkan Refinery Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti met Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to end the Nanar project earlier this year. The Sena, which had taken a pro-farmer stand in Maharashtra, put its weight behind the ones opposing it.

Majid Bhatkar, former sarpanch (village head) and head of the Konkan Refinery Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, said, “I have no land in the village except my house. Our concern is the project will put us out of business. Many landowners, who cultivate mangoes, are willing to part with their land, as the business is declining. Once the government announces a good package, people will grab it,” he said.

Shekhar Rane, a resident of Katradevi village, said, “We have small landholdings. The project will rob us of our livelihood.” Coastal fishing in Nanar is a primary source of income for the Koli community. Salim Solkar, a young fisherman, said, “We are all landless here; we live in small houses along the coast and depend on fishing. The project would have taken away our livelihood and homes.”

THE POLITICS

In March 2019, the state government issued a notification to scrap the land acquisition, after political pressure from BJP’s ally Sena. Scrapping the Nanar project was one of the key conditions of the Sena while forging an alliance with the BJP. Locals, however, are sceptical of the cancellation, and say it could be till the elections.

As the election battle heats up in Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg, the Shiv Sena, its MP Raut and MLA Rajan Salvi, have been campaigning against the ₹3-lakh-crore project, claiming it would bring outsiders in Konkan area. Narayan Rane’s political outfit, too, has been opposing the project. Raut said, “The issue was not taken up for political mileage. It was the people’s wish and therefore Uddhavji decided to stand behind the people of Konkan.”

Deepak Sawant, Sena leader and minister in Maharashtra government, said, “The government is now looking for an alternative site. Whenever the project is welcome, we will support it.”

First Published: Apr 16, 2019 23:32 IST

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