LRS Maharashtra Correspondent
Ratnagiri is a picturesque district on the West coast of Maharashtra famous for its greenery and rich crop of the world famous Hapus (Alphonso) mango and cashew nuts. In 1997, the Maharashtra government had declared the Konkan region which includes Ratnagiri district as ecologically sensitive.
People of Ratnagiri vigorously opposing the government plan to allow a mega refinery
However, the government of Maharashtra has different ideas, which are at complete variance with the interest of the people and the environment. Rubbishing its own previous report on the ecologically sensitive nature of the area, the government is planning to build a 40 trillion dollar project, one of the largest refineries in the world, known as West Coast Refinery in the area. Around 16 thousand acres of land spread over 16 villages of the area will be required for the project. The project is for a 60 million tonne integrated refinery-cum-petrochemical complex. It is being planned at Babulwadi village in the coastal Ratnagiri district. IOCL, HPCL, and BPCL are jointly executing the project.
The people of the region have risen up against this ecologically devastating project which has the potential of destroying the flora and fauna of the biodiversity rich region. Thousands of residents of Ratnagiri district are actively protesting against the proposed construction of the refinery. Hundreds of people opposing the proposed project travelled all the way to Mumbai to voice their opposition in the first week of December, 2017.
It must be noted that in 2011 the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) had carried out a study of coastal ecology. The report of the study was submitted to the government, highlighting the damage industrialization of the area would cause to local life forms. However, as if mocking the report the government is claiming that the refinery will be a “green refinery” which will allegedly cause no harm to the environment. However, learning from the previous experience of such projects in the region and across the country, the people are not convinced about the government’s tall claims, and are saying that “It will result in the destruction of the flora and fauna of the biodiversity-rich Konkan belt, in the destruction of cultivable land and orchards, in air and marine pollution”. Similar promises were given by the government when Roha, Nagothane areas of Konkan were opened up for the chemical industry, which has resulted in a large scale destruction of environment and pollution of surroundings.
In many parts of India such projects are facing huge opposition from the people and they are making use of whatever little legal recourse is available in the Land Acquisition Act of 2013. The anti-people, anti-ecology and callous attitude of the government is evident in the way it is using draconian laws to push through land acquisition for the project. Under the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 the government is required to follow consultative processes, such as detailed public hearings, before the land can be acquired for the project. To circumvent this requirement, the government is using MIDC Act to acquire the land. The MIDC Act is more draconian and does not provide any voice to the people whose land is being acquired, whereas under the Land Acquisition Act of 2013, the process of acquiring land is lengthier. This outright treachery has further angered the people of the region.
Learning of earlier success and failures of such struggles, people have decided to pre-empt any government action and are determined to oppose the joint measurement survey. They know that once the survey is completed, people will begin to receive eviction notices and then it will become even more difficult to oppose the project. They know that the State Government will start using brutal police force for eviction.
This strong and united opposition by the people has forced the local Shiv Sena MP and MLA to take a stand against the project. Ironically, the land acquisition orders have been issued by the Industry Minister who also belongs to Shiv Sena. It is noteworthy that in 90s people of the region had risen up against the Enron-Dhabol Power Plant and the project had to be shelved, and subsequently the company went bankrupt.
Lok Raj Sangathan condemns the government of Maharashtra for deceiving the people about the nature and impact of the project and treacherously using the draconian MIDC Act. This act exposes the anti-people, anti-social anti-ecology nature of the ruling establishment. It calls into question the very nature of development. What kind of development is this that causes irreversible damage to the ecology, adversely impacts the livelihood of the people, pollutes water and air? People are increasingly questioning this type of development that enriches only a few and causes devastation for others.
It is important that people from all walks of life and other people’s movements extend their support to the people of the region, who are determinedly opposing this project.