A day after the Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) demanded the suspension of soil survey work for the multi-billion dollar Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical Limited at Barsu in Ratnagiri district following protests by villagers, Maharashtra Industries Minister Uday Samant on Wednesday met Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar in Mumbai and briefed him about the on-ground situation.
Mr. Pawar said that while they did not oppose any project that was expected to bring benefits to the people of the Konkan region, one could not ignore the intensity of local opposition to a particular project.
“It is important to understand why the locals are opposing and a need on the part of authorities to have a dialogue with them. If their demands are legitimate, then there is a need to find an alternative site for the project,” the former Union Minister said after meeting Mr. Samant.
Villagers are protesting against the project and the MVA coalition is supporting them. Ratnagiri police arrested 111 people, most of them women, during the protest. In February, Marathi newspaper journalist Shashikant Warishe was mowed down by an SUV allegedly driven by a land broker, Pandharinath Amberkar, who was a supporter of the project, while the victim was extensively reporting on issues related to the setting up of the unit.
When asked about the Shinde-Fadnavis government’s claims that it was Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray who suggested Barsu as an alternative site for the multi-billion-dollar refinery project instead of Nanar in the district, when he was the Chief Minister, Mr. Pawar said he was not aware of that.
He said that his party leader would visit the proposed site and talk to the locals. He said that on Tuesday only soil testing was being done at the site, and Mr. Samant assured to hold dialogues with the locals on Thursday.
Further, the Minister also clarified that there was no survey being conducted at Barsu, and only soil testing was being conducted only to know if the project could come up there.
“This is a very preliminary stage. The government will speak to the villagers. We are in favour of having dialogue,” he said.
Mr. Shinde also said Barsu would be a green refinery, and his predecessor Mr. Thackeray was in its favour when he was in power. “The project will be executed with people’s consent,” he said.
On Tuesday, NCP leader Ajit Pawar asked the current dispensation to handle the anti-project protests by locals with “sensitivity”. Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, his deputy Devendra Fadnavis and other Ministers should hold talks with the protesters and find a way out by immediately suspending the survey, he suggested, adding that suppressing the voice of journalists reporting on protests against the project must be stopped.
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena (UBT) has decided to launch an agitation against the proposed project. A decision to this effect was taken at a meeting of Shiv Sena (UBT) MPs called by party leader Mr. Thackeray.