Shiv Sena, BJP ties slip further as oil refinery project row escalates
Tussle intensified after the Shiv Sena unilaterally announced that the land acquisition notification for the controversial oil refinery project in Nanar in Ratnagiri district would be cancelledmumbai Updated: Apr 23, 2018 23:57 IST
The tussle between the saffron allies intensified on Monday with the Shiv Sena unilaterally announcing that the land acquisition notification for the controversial oil refinery project in Nanar in Ratnagiri district, 408km from Mumbai, would be cancelled. State industries minister and senior Sena leader Subhash Desai made this announcement at a political rally in Nanar, in the presence of party chief Uddhav Thackeray to underline the party’s commitment to the locals, who are opposed to the project.
The Sena, however, was immediately snubbed by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who clarified that Desai did not have the powers to annul the notification.
“Desai has expressed his personal opinion; it is not the government’s decision. The government will decide what is in the best interests of the people of Konkan region,” Fadnavis said.
The decision to cancel the notification rests with the high-power committee under the state’s chief secretary and not with the minister, the CM said. “No such proposal [to cancel the notification] has come before the committee,” Fadnavis said.
Officials said after the decision of the HPC, a final sanction for such a denotification has to come from the cabinet.
This is the first time that a political war of words between the allies has interfered with government processes, forcing Fadnavis to issue a clarification.
Hours after Fadnavis ticked off the Sena, Anil Parab, Sena spokesperson, in a face-saving press conference said that the “process of cancelling” the notification has been started. “We have made the announcement taking all the legalities in consideration. If a minister can issue a notification, he can cancel it too. A minister is above any committee,” he told reporters at Sena Bhavan.
Parab also took the opportunity to taunt Fadnavis.
“The CM had assured Uddhav ji that the project will not go ahead if the locals oppose it. Everybody there has said no to the project, they have signed petitions against it. Now the CM has to show if he is with the people of Nanar and the state or he is supporting the Modis, Jains, Shahs etc, who have purchased land in Konkan to benefit from it,” he added.
The oil refinery project, touted to be one of the largest in the country, could pose trouble for the saffron alliance given that the Sena’s political stakes in Konkan, its stronghold, are high. Thackeray’s address at the rally – where he upped his ante against the project and the BJP — indicates that backtracking on the Nanar project now will not be politically feasible for the Sena chief.
On the other hand, given that this is a central project worth an estimated Rs3 lakh crore, the stakes are high for the BJP government to get the project off the ground.
During his speech, Thackeray took on the BJP and said the central government should shift the project to Gujarat or Vidarbha. “What happened to Gujarat, we will not let that happen to Nanar and Konkan. Let the project go to Gujarat. A BJP MLA from Nagpur has written to the government saying that the project should be set up in Nagpur, so take it there,” he said. Thackeray alleged that the “land mafia” had been buying land in Nanar following the notification and government’s insistence on the project was to protest interests of investors. “Modi, Jain, Shah, and people with other such [sur]names have purchased land here,” he alleged.
Addressing the rally, Desai said: “Today, I wish to make an announcement with Uddhavji’s permission — the notification to acquire land for Nanar refinery project has been cancelled.”
At the event, locals demanded that the Sena leaders clarify the party’s stand on the project, pointing out that on the one hand, the ministry, under Sena’s minister Desai, had issued a notification to acquire land in May 2017, while on the other hand, the party said it was opposed to the project.
Responding to the queries, Desai said there was “no need to doubt” the Sena’s intentions. “Various political parties are trying to malign the Sena, but we are with the people of the state,” the minister claimed, adding that the Sena’s founder late Bal Thackeray had given him the definition of development — he said that “if something is against the people, it is not development”.
The Nanar project is a joint venture between a consortium of three Indian oil companies — IOC, BPCL and HPCL — and oil giant Saudi Aramco. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Aramco and the Indian consortium on April 13. The mega project is expected to generate one lakh jobs and bring in investment of up to Rs 3 lakh crore.
Thackeray, who is on a one-day visit to Nanar, addressed a rally there, where he promised that the project would not take off.