Dabhol, Jaitapur now Nanar: The struggle for land in Konkan continues

This is not the first project strongly opposed by the local people. So, why do projects in Konkan always run into trouble?

mumbai Updated: Apr 17, 2018 00:39 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Always trying to corner its ruling partner BJP, the Sena is particularly aggressive over the issue. (Representational photo)

A refinery project in Nanar area of Ratnagiri district of coastal Konkan region is likely to become the latest political controversy in the state. Except the ruling BJP, all political parties are opposing the project. That includes BJP’s ally Shiv Sena.

India’s three public sector oil companies — Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum — in June 2017 signed an agreement to build one of the world’s largest integrated refinery-cum-petrochemicals complexes in Ratnagiri district.

Last week, a consortium of the three oil companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco) for setting up the project.

When completed by 2022, the Rs3-trillion complex at Nanar - West Coast Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited - will be the world’s biggest single-location oil refinery project with a capacity to process 60 million tonnes annually.

The signing of the MoU has now led to fresh round of protests against the project. In past few days, Shiv Sena as well as opposition parties such as Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena have announced their opposition to the project.

Always trying to corner its ruling partner BJP, the Sena is particularly aggressive over the issue.

It even went to the extent of accusing Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of betraying the people by not keeping his word that the project won’t be imposed on the people if they don’t want it.

Fadnavis has now warned that the project could get shifted out of Maharashtra if the opposition continues.

Next few days will see more high-pitched battles over the Nanar project as Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray, NCP chief Sharad Pawar and some Congress leader are scheduled to visit the Nanar area to interact with the villagers who are opposing the project.

This is not the first project in Konkan that is strongly opposed by the local people.

Significantly, all three are in the picturesque Ratnagiri district of Konkan.

In the early nineties, it was the Dabhol Power Company, then set up by now defunct US energy major Enron. The energy plant became a major political issue with several villagers opposing acquisition of land by then Congress government for the same. It saw the then opposition parties BJP and Shiv Sena opposing the plant bitterly, only to revive it after they won power in 1995.

Later the Congress-NCP alliance government rescinded the project and it was taken over by the Central government. The project has run into major losses and its future is now uncertain.

The Jaitapur Nuclear Power Project, an Indo-French joint initiative, is also delayed due to the opposition by the local people. It was planned during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in 2010.

The project with a capacity to generate 9900 MW electricity was vehemently opposed by the Shiv Sena and some other outfits. However, now the opposition to the project is on the wane and it is slowly making progress.

So, why do projects in Konkan always run into trouble?

In the Konkan, land has always been a sensitive issue. Maybe because of the low amount of land holding per family, people are often reluctant to part with land for any government project. The long-pending work of expansion of Mumbai-Goa highway is a classic example.

Besides, the Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg belt has a significant number of people relying on horticulture. Pollution caused by such projects will destroy the same, they fear.

Significantly, the refinery is proposed close to Devgad area, which is famous alphonso (hapus) mango and one can see acres and acres of mango orchards in this area. In addition, several people in the area allege that politicians, bureaucrats and well-connected investors from Mumbai-Pune bought land at cheap rates from the local farmers before the project was declared and will now reap profits as the rates shoot up.

Similar allegations were made by farmers in case of Chief Minister Fadnavis’ ambitious Mumbai-Nagpur expressway and Navi Mumbai international airport. Within the government, there is the feeling that the Nanar project will eventually be accepted by the people.

Maybe is it time the government and politicians pay attention to the reasons why people have no faith in them and are reluctant to part with their land for public projects. Else, it will become more and more difficult to build any projects in the future.

First Published: Apr 17, 2018 00:39 IST