Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Uddhav Thackeray on Saturday said the proposed ‘poisonous’ Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited at Barsu in coastal Ratnagiri district should be moved to Gujarat and good investment projects from the neighbouring State be brought back to Maharashtra.
“The Chief Minister should come and talk to you like I’m doing. Apart from telling you why Konkan needs this harmful project and for whom it is so important, he should also answer why the State lost ‘safe’ projects like Vedanta-Foxconn, bulk drugs park, Tata-Airbus,” he told the protesters at Solgaon village in Rajapur taluka, more than 400 km from Mumbai.
The former Chief Minister of Maharashtra along with his party leaders visited villages and petroglyphs sites where the proposed mega oil refinery is coming up.
He said that whatever was non-controversial was for Gujarat and what was controversial was sent to Maharashtra.
Mr. Thackeray dared the government to face the protesters and support the project, even as BJP leaders took out a rally in the area backing it.
‘My stand is clear’
He said that the current government was accusing him of suggesting Barsu as an alternative site for Nanar, but there was a reason for the same. “I was blamed by a few people for not allowing Konkan to develop, so I suggested Barsu, but if people don’t want the project to come up here, I would have never pursued it. My stand is very clear. We are in support of the villagers in Barsu-Solgaon, who are opposing the project. The government should stop the soil survey,” he said.
A group of protesters raised slogans against Rajapur MLA Rajan Salavi from Uddhav’s Sena who was in support of the project until recently. Mr. Salavi was accompanying his party leader during the visit.
A large police force has been deployed in and around Barsu village in view of Mr. Thackeray’s visit as well as a rally of supporters of the project led by Union Minister Narayan Rane’s son Nilesh Rane, a former member of Lok Sabha at Rajapur town. The Ratnagiri police also imposed Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the area prohibiting unlawful assembly.
Hitting out at the current dispensation for accusing him of sanctioning the project at Barsu for the benefit of his relatives who owned a large portion of land in the area, Mr. Thackeray said “Yes, they are right. My relatives own the land in Konkan and you [protesters] are my relatives.”
“Like I’m visiting the villages and interacting with you, even the Chief Minister should come and explain who is actually getting benefited by this project and for whom it is so important,” he said.
On April 25, protests broke out at Barsu after the work for soil testing began. Sections of locals are opposing the project as they are concerned about the potential impact on the environment and livelihood of the local community. Police resorted to lathi charge and detained over 700 protesters and 111, including over 100 women, were booked under Sections related to rioting, unlawful assembly and disobedience to public order.
“The government should think about the son of soils, not soil testing,” said Mr. Thackeray. The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) leaders, including Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar, and his nephew Ajit Pawar, have demanded sensitive handling of the situation arising out of the agitation.
Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Sanjay Raut on April 29 said Marathi manoos from Ratnagiri, the sons of the soil, were being attacked by the police for an ‘Islamic’ oil refinery project from Saudi Arabia even as there was a ‘Hindutvawadi’ government in the State. “This is their [the current dispensation’s] Hindutva,” he said.