Farmers from Konkan Region March to Mumbai to Oppose Refinery Project
The plans of the Fadnavis government to pave way for the ambitious refinery project in Ratnagiri has hit another major roadblock. Fifth time in a row over 2,000 protesting farmers from 16 affected villages marched to Mumbai’s Azad Maidan to lodge their protest and commitment to oppose the project at any cost.
The $40 billion project, known as West Coast Refinery, has been facing strong opposition since it was proposed, while the ruling dispensation has maintained that the project would bring huge benefits to the Konkan region of Maharashtra and the entire country. However, if the plans to initiate the project materialises, it will lead to the beggaring of approximately 22,000 farmers and 5,000 fishermen who live in the project-designated area, and are heavily dependent on farming and fishing.
Over 16,000 acres Land Acquired Illegally
The Maharashtra government in an attempt to acquire land for the project declared around 16,000 acres of land spanning across 16 villages as an ‘industrial zone’ for the project in May this year. But, instead of following the Land Acquisition Act of 2013, the land is being acquired under the Maharashtra Industrial Development Act of 1961.
Speaking with NewsClick, Satyajit Chavan, the convener of Konkan Vinashkari Prakalp Virodhi Samiti (KVPVS) which is leading the movement, said, “This is the fifth time we have had to gather from across the Konkan region to protest the acquisition. All that we want is for our land to not be declared as an industrial zone. The government in utter disregard for the rights of the farmers and their families went ahead without any due process to declare the farmers land as an industrial zone. We are demanding that the unofficial and illegal ways in which our land has been acquired be cancelled immediately.”
The farmers at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan have been protesting through yesterday (November 27) night. Chauhan also revealed that attempts were being made to scuttle the movement as repeated warnings were issued by the police to the protestors. Four activists- two men and two women, entered the gallery of the Maharashtra Parliament earlier today to make their voice heard, following which they were taken into custody by the Maharashtra police post some sloganeering.
In September this year, in the light of the opposition towards the Ratnagiri refinery, a high-level committee of experts was set up to draw a road map for settlement of the land acquisition issues with the villagers. Commenting on the commission set up in September, Chauhan added, “These are part of the attempts by the Fadnavis sarkaar (government) to find backdoor entries into our land as previous surveying processes have been opposed vehemently by the villagers.” In an attempt to stall the project at all cost, farmers from across villages in the Konkan region have been blocking the surveying instruments being used by government officers using sheets of cloth and black umbrellas.
The West Coast Refinery project is being carried out by three publicly-owned oil companies - Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum, and Hindustan Petroleum. Alongside these, the state-run oil firm of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), plans to pick up a stake in the $40 billion refinery and petrochemicals project from the world’s biggest oil producer, Saudi Arabian Oil Corporation, or Saudi Aramco.
Despite increasing pressure from the state government, political opposition to the acquisition of land in the Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts has intensified with the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress siding with the locals on the issue.
Anxieties of the locals have culminated into widespread agitation against the proposed project with concerns over the damage the industrialisation of the region will bring. In 1997, Maharashtra government had declared the Konkan region as ecologically sensitive. Additionally, the new plant will be located close to the Jaitapur nuclear project, making the threat to local animal and plant species very real.
The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) had carried out a study on the coastal ecology in 2011. The report of the study was submitted to the government, highlighting the damage industrialisation of the area would cause to the local life forms.
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