The Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra is seething in anger against the proposed Barsu Salgaon refinery project. Entire villages are opposing the project on the grounds that it will directly and immediately impact the livelihood of thousands of local people in a brutal manner. It will rob them of their land and livelihood. The project also poses a grave danger to the environment of the Konkan region.
Residents of 32 Gram Sabhas across 8 villages have been stepping up their opposition to the project since 22nd April. They have been relentlessly opposing multiple attempts of the Maharashtra government to conduct a survey for the land acquisition and to study the feasibility of the project. The government has made several such attempts since June 2022 despite consistent opposition from the people. The latest attempt is a soil survey of the land.
On 24th April, the protesters poured onto the streets against the planned survey of the land. The state government retaliated by increasing police deployment. The local administration invoked section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), prohibiting people from gathering at the protest site. People were also prohibited from posting any text, picture or video of the protest on social media. They were threatened that any violation of the order would lead to prosecution under Section 188 of the IPC.
When the protesters, undaunted by these restrictions, unitedly raised slogans against the government, the police brutally attacked them. Over 100 protestors, mainly women, were beaten up and later locked up for a day in different parts of the district. The police also arrested at least four protestors and issued preventive notices to 45 local residents, banning their entry into Ratnagiri district. Public movement around 1 km of the protest site was also banned.
The villages collectively have a population of nearly 8,000, according to the 2011 census. More than 2000 policemen brought in from various parts of Maharashtra were posted there, to silence them!
The project, being promoted as the world’s largest single-location refinery project, is a joint venture of Saudi Aramco and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) together holding 50% shares, and Indian partners Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd (HPCL), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd. (BPCL) as well as Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. (IOC) holding the remaining 50% shares. The project is estimated to cost around rupees 3 lakh crore. Designed to spread across 15,000 acres of land, the project will have a capacity of 60 million tonnes per annum.
The Sangharsh Samiti formed to fight against the project has repeatedly sought an audience with the Chief Minister and other Ministers of the Maharashtra government but to no avail.
In 2015, a similar refinery was proposed by the then coalition government of BJP and Shiv Sena in an area around Nanar in Ratnagiri district. At that time too, thousands of people from the region militantly fought and compelled the then government to finally cancel the project in 2019. The project was identified as being detrimental to the environment of the Konkan region. However, in 2022 the same project was planned in the Barsu region just 20 km. away as a “green project”. This has raised the question as to how the classification of the project changed when nothing else about it had changed.
As usual, to justify the project as environment friendly, the government insists it is a “green refinery project”. However, people cite the examples of Lote Parshuram chemical zone (in the same Ratnagiri district), Ambernath and Boisar (both near Mumbai), as also of Dahej and Manali in Tamil Nadu. They are pointing out how, after starting various chemical factories in these regions, the entire environment – the land, air and water have been thoroughly polluted. People are pointing out that the Government of Maharashtra itself has declared the entire Konkan region as an ecologically sensitive zone, and therefore no polluting industries should be allowed in the zone. People have no faith in any government pollution regulatory mechanism.
To blunt the opposition to the project various government officials and Ministers are declaring that if the refinery is put up in the region, then schools, colleges, hospitals etc. will follow, which will benefit the people. People are angrily denouncing this as blackmail and saying that the government should unconditionally fulfil its responsibility of ensuring schools, colleges, hospitals, sanitation etc. for the entire Konkan region, not use this as a bait to justify setting up the refinery.
It has been reported in the media that the Deputy Chief Minister has declared that a huge majority of people of the region are in support of the refinery, whereas “some trouble makers” from outside are opposing it. The Sangharsh Samiti is exposing this falsehood by showing that Gramsabhas held in 5 Gram panchayats of the region have passed unanimous resolutions, not only against the refinery but also refusing permission for any survey in the region. They are challenging the Chief Minister to hold an open public meeting in the Barsu area, in the presence of all the concerned people to know their true feelings.
This determined and militant opposition by thousands of the residents of the region and the support they are getting from justice-loving people all over the country has forced various political parties of the ruling class to express their support to the people. The protesting people have pointed out the fact that none of these political parties have so far unequivocally opposed the setting up of polluting industries in the Konkan region.
The struggle of people of the Konkan region in defence of their rights and for protecting the environment, like many struggles going on all over the country, is a struggle between the ruling capitalist class on one hand, and the masses of people on the other. The capitalist class has the sole aim of maximising the profits of private capitalists at the cost of the livelihood of people and the irreversible destruction of the environment. On the other hand, the masses of people are fighting to establish a system which will ensure fulfilment of their growing needs, while nurturing the environment and natural wealth for future generations.