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Protests against Ratnagiri refinery intensified, what’s happening?

Protests against Ratnagiri refinery intensified, what’s happening?

On Tuesday, in Barsu and nearby villages located in Ratnagiri district, police cracked down on local protesters who were opposing a soil survey for an oil refinery project. The protesters, mostly women, were lying on the roads to prevent the entry of vehicles carrying inspection teams into the town. As a result, the police arrested more than a hundred of them.

Local residents expressed their anger against the mega-project, which they believed would negatively impact the sensitive biodiversity of the Konkan coastal region and also harm their livelihoods.

In response to their concerns, the opposition Shiv Sena (UBT) party supported the protesters and called for an immediate end to the “atrocities” committed against them.

According to an official, a government team was supposed to conduct a survey at the project site in the Barsu and Solgaon regions of Rajapur, roughly 400km from Mumbai, on Monday. However, locals began organizing protests, which led to police intervention.

What’s happening?

On April 22, Rajapur tehsildar Sheetal Jadhav issued a ban order effective until May 31 within a 1 km radius of Barsu and five adjacent villages to allow soil testing for the RRPL site.

However, locals were concerned about the restrictions on gatherings and movement under article 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Two activists were arrested and there were rumors that several others would be notified and detained by the police.

On Monday, around 250 women held a one-day protest near the project site in Barsu, and one of them was hospitalized due to heat stroke. Rajapur SDO Vaishali Mane and tehsildar Sheetal Jadhav held talks with the protesters but were unsuccessful.

A police team sent to Barsu was involved in an accident, with 17 people injured but reportedly out of danger. To handle the protests, approximately 1,800 police officers, including police superintendents, deputy superintendents, police inspectors, assistant and sub-inspectorates, state reserve personnel and riot police, were deployed to the villages of Barsu, Panhle, Dhopeshwar, Goval, Varchiwadi Goval and Khalchiwadi Goval.

Drilling activities to test the soil were to begin in these towns, but the locals were protesting the acquisition of approximately 20 acres of their land for the refinery project.

Police personnel were withdrawn from the villages and one injured officer was released, while 16 remain hospitalized.

Political controversy over refinery project

The conflict between locals and the government has escalated into a political controversy, with Maharashtrian opposition Vikas Aghadi supporting the protests and demanding an immediate halt to the poll. In response, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Industries Minister Uday Samant pointed out that Uddhav Thackeray had suggested the site to the Center during his tenure as CM.

Conflicts between police and residents of Barsu and nearby villages continued on Tuesday, with detained protesters being taken to undisclosed locations on ST buses and other vehicles. The police and administration had previously warned locals to take strict action if they did not cooperate in the survey.

The five gram panchayats in the area passed a resolution against the oil refinery project in their gram sabhas. The government issued release notices to 45 activists and locals, and police arrested hundreds of protesters. The activists allege police brutality and harassment tactics by the government.

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