Barely a week after meeting Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar and briefing him on the situation at Ratnagiri’s Barsu, where villagers are protesting against the Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (RRPCL) project, Maharashtra Industries Minister Uday Samant met the NCP leader again in Mumbai on May 1.
The multi-billion dollar project is touted as the world’s largest single location refinery complex,
Mr. Samant informed Mr. Pawar that the Shinde-Fadnavis government would not forcibly proceed with the project until the misconceptions of the protesters were resolved.
“We will move forward only after taking the protesters into confidence. We are ready to discuss all issues pertaining to the project,” Mr. Samant said. He met the NCP patriarch at his Silver Oak residence in south Mumbai, after having a discussion with Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.
The Maharashtra government on April 25 started soil testing at Barsu to know if the site was suitable for the proposed project and since then hundreds of residents are protesting the government’s decision as they are concerned about the potential impact on the environment and the livelihoods of local communities.
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The Konkan region is ecologically sensitive, with several species of flora and fauna endemic to the area. The current dispensation alleged that some of the Opposition parties were instigating the villagers for political mileage.
On April 28, the protest intensified after police used tear gas canisters and resorted to lathi charge to disperse the crowd.
“The farmers there have doubts about the refinery. I have assured Mr. Pawar on behalf of the State government that it will not be taken forward without clearing the doubts of the locals. We are prepared to discuss all issues pertaining to the project,” the Minister said, adding that other than the refinery, they did not discuss any issue.
According to Ratnagiri Police, so far, 201 protesters, including 181 women, were booked under Sections related to assaulting public servants, rioting, unlawful assembly and disobedience to public order.
Recently, Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Sanjay Raut said that 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.
Earlier, Mr. Samant pointed out that the Barsu site, instead of Nanar in the same district, was suggested by then Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and now the project was being opposed only because Mr. Shinde is the Chief Minister, to which Mr. Thackeray said though he had suggested Barsu as an alternative site, he would have moved ahead with it only after talking to the local residents and taking them into confidence had he remained as the Chief Minister.