Could the warring Raj Shrikant Thackeray cousins find common ground in the Nanar refinery project? Farmers from villages where the Rs 3-trillion refinery is planned to be set up in Ratnagiri district met Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, asking for support to their agitation against the mega refinery.
Raj is said to have assured them of full support and a visit to Nanar soon.
“We are meeting all political leaders who had told us that they were against the project and had expressed their support to farmers. So, we met MNS chief Raj Thackeray, too. He assured us of his full support. He said he would visit Nanar soon to back us,” said Ashok Walam, president of the Konkan Anti-Refinery Action Committee, who is leading the protests. The farmers also met Congress leaders, including state president Ashok Chavan.
“Rajsaheb has promised support to the Nanar farmers. He will begin his statewide tour on May 1, during which he will visit the Konkan region and meet the farmers there. The MNS will not let farmers suffer,” said MNS leader Sandeep Deshpande.
The backing from the political heavyweight came a day after his cousin and Shiv Sena chief, Uddhav Thackeray, lashed out at Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis for not doing enough to stop the Centre from giving the go-ahead to the project despite widespread opposition and threatened to pull out of the government.
A senior Sena functionary said Uddhav has spoken to key party ministers, asking them to “be prepared to step down”. “This is the right time, if we want to pull out of the government. This is our moment because everyone is against the project. If the government doesn’t budge, we will withdraw support.”
Uddhav, too, is expected to visit Nanar soon. “He will camp there and meet affected villagers,” said the functionary.
Threat to environment
Besides displacing a large number of farmers, the project has been opposed by conservationists, NGOs and anti-nuclear activists for likely environmental degradation in the eco-sensitive zones of the Konkan region. It is suspected that the pollution from the refinery complex will not only affect mango and cashew orchards, but also alter marine life.
Walam warned that the project will also lead to an increase in particulate suspended matter and oil spills in the Waghotane creek, endangering the lives and livelihoods of villagers.
A verbal lashing
In his vitriolic attack in party mouthpiece Saamna, Uddhav had called Fadnavis “spineless” and a “traitor” for going back on his supposed promise of ensuring that the project would not be “thrust upon the people”. He said his party would not allow the project to take off “under any circumstance”. “It looks like the Centre has not paid heed to the chief minister, who should have remained adamant and got the project scrapped.”
The pillory came two days after a consortium of Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd signed an MoU with state-owned Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Saudi Aramco) for setting up “India’s largest refinery and petroleum complex” in Ratnagiri.
Political support for the agitation against the project has been growing. Former chief minister and Maharashtra Swabhiman Paksha founder Narayan Rane, who recently entered the Rajya Sabha through a BJP nomination, is also opposed to the project. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has asked the government to look for an alternative site for the refinery.
Adefensive Fadnavis has said that the MoU has been misunderstood, and that it was not about the Nanar project but the oil refinery on the western coast. He has asserted that the government would go ahead with the project regardless of opposition. He also said he would persuade Uddhav and Rane and the protesting farmers to give up their resistance.
Once built, the refinery will be the largest single location refinery complex in the world with a capacity of 60 million tonne.