Fadnavis government in tight spot in run-up to polls
The proposed refinery project in Nanar has led to a fresh tussle between the BJP and Shiv Senamumbai Updated: Apr 24, 2018 00:39 IST
As expected, the issue of land acquisition for the proposed refinery project at Nanar in Ratnagiri has led to a fresh tussle between Shiv Sena and the BJP and may cause some more bitterness between the two ruling parties. On Monday, state industries minister and senior Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai announced in a public meeting that the notification issued by the government in May 2017 for acquiring land for the refinery project was being cancelled. He made the announcement in the presence of Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who declared in no uncertain terms that the refinery project would not be allowed at Nanar.
Barely an hour after that, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, in a snub to the Sena, said that no such decision had been taken by the government. What Desai announced could be his personal view, he remarked. Going by Fadnavis’ reaction, it is clear that Desai had not consulted the chief minister before making such an announcement — an established norm in the government.
The developments have now put both the sides in a difficult situation.
If Fadnavis and the BJP don’t back even a bit on the issue, it could mean the Sena has no say in the government. The Sena will also have to face the taunt of the Opposition that the party wants to stick to power even as the BJP keeps ignoring it. The Sena did try to control the damage by lobbing the ball in the CM’s court by saying that the latter has to pick between the people of Konkan and the ‘land mafia’ who have invested in Nanar area before the project was announced. Still, if the government decides to push the project, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray will have to take a stand on it.
The latest episode has probably put CM Fadnavis in a tight spot. Within the party, he is advocating an alliance with the Sena for the coming elections. However, with its announcement on Monday, the Sena has created a headache for him. It will be embarrassing for his government if it loses a mega project with an estimated Rs3 lakh crore investment.
If majority of villagers refuse to part with their land, it would be difficult for the government to force them to do so in the run-up to the elections. What happens in Ratnagiri will have an impact on entire Konkan and may be in other areas. The district has already seen fights over Dabhol and Jaitapur projects. In this area, there is also discontent that a number of investors from neighbouring states bought land at cheaper prices before the project was declared and are now selling it to the government at higher rates.
Significantly, it is not just the Nanar refinery project where the government is facing resistance in acquiring land. Fadnavis’ dream project, Mumbai-Nagpur Expressway, is also in trouble. The government is facing difficulty in acquiring land from farmers in Nashik and Thane districts. In Nashik, farmers have been refusing to part with their fertile land for the road project. They are also questioning why the alignment of the road is changed at several places which they suspect is being done to save land owned by certain people.
Villagers in Thane and Palghar districts are unwilling to give their land for Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train, Mumbai-Vadodara expressway and other projects. Farmers in Pune district are unhappy over the proposed plan for an airport at Chakan.
With barely a year in its hand, the Fadnavis government will face a difficult task. On one hand, it will be under pressure to get the projects on track for which early acquisition of land would be the key while on the other hand, it cannot afford to push its way if the farmers are opposing land acquisition.
As it is, the government has not fully succeeded in handling the discontent in rural areas. The distress in farm sector has affected the mood in rural areas as the economy there depends on agriculture. In addition, the land acquisition spree could hurt the BJP’s interests further. The actual area to be acquired could be less but the controversies could be troublesome for the party.