While the Maharashtra Government is contemplating on diversifying the development profile of Konkan, disruption caused by the political opposition is vehement. The Nanar refinery has been caught in the political storm.
Starting from Palghar district of Maharashra through Thiruvananthpuram in Kerala, Konkan is believed to have been created by Bhagvan Parashuram by reclaiming the land from the ocean. The entire stretch of Konkan cutting through Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Kerala is rich with biodiversity and pure fresh water bodies. The people originating from this stretch have led the country in various fields from science to sports to banking to politics to education to industry.
Maharashtra’s Konkan belt that produces world”s best mangoes— Alfanso Hapoos, has not developed satisfactorily. Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) established a few chemical factories in Chiplun in Ratnagiri district and Mahad in Raigad district, which the local people never wanted due to its environmental impact. Similarly, the locals never wanted the coal-based thermal power plants, which would destroy the Mangoes, Cashew, Coconut and Beetle-nut plantations. But the successive Congress Governments forcefully established chemical industrial zones and coal based power plants in some areas of Konkan, which has led to the environmental degradation in the region.
This led to general opposition by the locals to any industrial development in the eco-sensitive areas including mining and factories, which can be understood. But what happened next is frivolous. The Leftist groups of urban Naxals through various NGOs have tried to take over the scenario to prevent setting up legitimate non-polluting industry. Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant (JNPP) in Ratnagiri district was frivolously opposed by these Left groups. The protests went violent a few times. The common people were deliberately misinformed by the leftists that their children would bear with genetic abnormalities.
Nanar is situated few kilometres down south across the Jaitapur creek near Rajapur town in Ratnagiri district. Its geographical position is typical. It is on the plateau of hard black basalt rock, bordered by Jaitapur creek in the north and Vijaydurg creek in the south. The western border is Vijaydurg deep-water port. (Situated inside the creek, the Vijaydurg port is safe in all weathers with natural depth of 18 meters.)
The Nanar plateau has few villages with some mango plantations and has dispersed and thin population. The hard black basalt rock does not allow anything to grow. The mango and cashew plantations on the plateau are done thru the pits taken in the rock with outside soil. Due to the minerals in the rock, the mangoes are the most sweet, having best test. But the season of these mangoes is late April or early May, which incurs a very little price in the market. The overall maintenance cost of the plantation on the plateau is greater than the other low lying soil fields. There are also some Jambha stone quarries on the plateau. Learned people say, that where the Jambha stone is so large that it can be quarried for years, the land is not at all useful for the plantation. The plateau is not useful for any other farming like rice or anything else. Only Mangoes and cashew can be farmed over it with large investment.
When the Government decided to establish the world”s biggest refinery at this place, it was natural for the locals to be sceptical. Actually 14 wadis (colonies) of seven revenue villages are going to be affected due to this project. There were genuine concerns about pollution, about being displaced and rehabilitation, about mango, cashew and beetle nut plantations. This Correspondent had also raised the issue of polluting industry in Konkan with Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis while interviewing for Organiser.
CM Fadanvis had promised Organiser that he would not bring disastrous projects to eco-sensitive Konkan. He had also clarified that he will not go against the will of the people and that he opposed the setting up of polluting chemical industry in Konkan.
In Nanar, when common villagers and farmers of the area were concerned, the Government set up a team to learn about their objections and concerns. The team initially also tried to educate the people about the technology of the refinery and how it is a non-polluting industry. Many people are convinced, that erecting the refinery here is fine. The district administration, which issued 32 (2) notices to some forty eight thousand shares of land, for the land acquisition, had heard all 5800 objections and clarified to the land owners. It should be noted that these notices were issued per land share and not per individual. But while collecting the letters of consent, they were collected per individual. Today out of five thousand hectares of land required for the first phase of project, owners of the 20 percent of the land have given the letters of consent.
Meanwhile the same individuals involved in Jaitapur agitations entered the Nanar scenario without the invitation of locals. The poor locals were told the half baked stories same as in Jaitapur about how their children would bear genetic disorders due to the upcoming refinery.
Another ploy is used to frighten the people by telling them that the Mangoes would never be produced again. While there is no scientific evidence to prove these allegations, the campaign is going on in full swing.
They have derived a new mechanism to fund this agitation. The Leftist NGOs get their funds from outside, but still they collect one thousand rupees per household every few days and each time the leaders go to Mumbai to meet politicians and journalists.
The Shiv Sena is playing the same game it played in Jaitapur and trying to ripe the uneasiness in the sceptical locals by opposing the Nanar Refinery project, instead of informing them and making a consensus. Surprisingly, Shiv Sena Union Cabinet Minister Anant Geete and local Shiv Sena MP Vinayak Raut were the ones who first approached the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas and CM Devendra Fadanvis to demand the project to be set up in this area.
CM Fadanvis revealed this fact on the floor of the legislature and Shiv Sena duo haven”t denied it till date. But now the party is in full swing to oppose the refinery along with Leftist NGOs. The leaders of the agitation had visited Mumbai several times and met the political leaders of all the opposition parties including MNS, NCP and Congress. Sensing the new political ground to gain a foothold, every political party is now opposing this biggest refinery project. Strangely, Jindal Industries have set up a coal-based thermal power plant in the same vicinity and it is polluting, damaging water sources and Mango plantations, even the greenery is being affected. But there were no opposition to that project while it was being erected, and even now, when Jindal power plant is damaging the vicinity, no party or NGO talks about it.
Boycott and Threats
People in Nanar plateau simply want the Government and the refinery company to address their concerns. They do not actually oppose the project. But they say that there is no one officially communicating about what will happen to them, to whatever the plantations they have, to their temples. According to Kailas Gavkar, President of Green Refinery Samanvay Samiti of Sagave village and Sachin Desai, a horticulturist land owner and fertiliser trader, the villagers are ready to accept the setting up of refinery on a few conditions. But the leaders of the anti-refinery agitation are not ready to talk and see through the correct picture.
The terror of anti-refinery leaders is so ghastly that Ravindra Avasare, the Vice-President of Green Refinery Petrochemical Samanvay Samiti, which supports the project with conditions, refuses to leave house and come out in open for safety concerns. He is being targeted and issued threats by anti-refinery gang. Ironically, he is said to be a neighbour of Ashok Walam, leader of the anti-refinery protests. Many in these villages are living under the fear of anti-refinery gang, as they issue open threats to the people who want to support the project.
Police Protection to the villagers who support the refinery is a must and urgent step if the Government wants to handle the situation and gain confidence of the supportive villagers. The anti-refinery gang is behaving like a typical Naxal gang, by trying to control village Gram Panchayats and the Sarpanchs.
What People Want
The villagers are havingthe dream of prosperity and developing their villages with the huge funding that will come with the refinery. They are hoping to develop new businesses like restaurants, taxi services, hotels and lodges, renting out houses and rooms to the new people that would arrive for the jobs etc as there will be a large number of business travellers visiting the refinery. They have also dreams of improving Mangoes and Cashew farming with the guidance of experts with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funding of the company. The villagers want protection against the anti-refinery gang, that will enable them to openly support the refinery project and that will further enable them to directly negotiate with the government about the terms of the land acquisition.
That will bring the sense of the ownership to the villagers and also enable them to keep watch closely on the developments. They have also demanded jobs in the company and the skill development programme to enable the young to take opportunity with the new technology, which may be also acceptable to the company. According to the sources, the health care and education facilities havealready been offered to the villages by the newly formed company.