Over 500 villagers staged a sit-in protest against the setting up of an oil refinery at Rajapur in Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district. As the Maharashtra government clears the way for work on the stalled Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (RRPCL) project at another location, residents staged a rally against the Rajapur tehsil oil refinery in the coastal district of Ratnagiri. The RRPCL project is billed as the largest single-site refinery complex in the world.
Many young people who had returned home, as well as local residents, coordinated protests against the refinery. Every hamlet and wadi in Rajapur taluka stood united, raising opposition banners and chanting protest slogans, alongside bhajans (devotional songs) throughout the five-day religious festival.
Project will affect 11 villages
A total of 11 villages are expected to be affected by the project. Among these are Barasu, Solgaon, Goval, Devache Gothane, Shivane Khurd, Sogamwadi, Rautwadi and others located around the Arjuna river in the Rajarpur taluka.
With a total investment of Rs. three lakh crore, the refinery complex will be spread over 15,000 acres. Once built, it is expected to process 1.2 million barrels of crude oil per day or about 60 million metric tons per year.
- The project had already been proposed in the village of Nanar in the taluka of Rajapur in 2014. A survey was undertaken, together with soil analysis and the submission of a feasibility report and environmental clearances.
- Residents of these villages have raised several concerns over the project, one of which is the claim that it is a highly polluting ‘red category’ project.
- Besides health issues caused by the project, villagers worry that polluting gases could harm mango cultivation in the area, with an annual turnover of 2,200 crore rupees (22 billion rupees) for the district.
- As per the locals,’ the project will threaten 30,000-year-old prehistoric geoglyphs, which are art or motifs on stones, gravel, earth and other elements of the landscape.
The project proponents claimed that the project would generate over 15,000 direct jobs and 50,000 indirect jobs, with over one lakh (100,000) employment opportunities during the construction of the plant.
What has happened
On 15 September, Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Hardeep Singh Puri mentioned that the stalled oil refinery project in Ratnagiri would be revived, to make India energy independent. Since 2018, the stalled West Coast Refinery project in Maharashtra has been facing hurdles due to land acquisition hurdles.
“We sent out feelers to everyone, and the response has been positive so far. The project can be built elsewhere in Maharashtra or any other west coast state or any southern state. We are also considering splitting the project into two or more regions. But it would be better if the Rs 3 lakh crore (Rs 3 trillion) project could be completed in one place. Puri did the investors make any real offers to him at that point.
Ratnagiri Refinery Project
- The project was first introduced in 2015 when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power in Maharashtra in alliance with the Shiv Sena.
- The project was an “ultra” refinery for crude oil, spread over 16,000 acres of land in 17 villages, with the main refinery at Nanar.
- The $44 billion, six million tonne refinery was meant to be a joint venture between foreign oil megacompanies Saudi Aramco and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and Indian public sector oil companies Indian Oil Corporation Ltd, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd and Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited.
A research paper by academician Swapnaja Mohite, published in January 2008 titled “The Status of Fishermen’s Cooperative Societies in Ratnagiri District“, underlines the importance of Ratnagiri’s abundance of marine resources and its deep ties with the local fishermen community.
With a coastline of 167 km, Ratnagiri district has a continental shelf area of 6,600 square meters and a potential fishing area of up to 40 fathoms, which translates to 2,910 square km, from about 40 fathoms-100 fathoms, the available area is 3,690 square kilometres.
According to the State Department of Fisheries report published in 2021, there are 118 registered fisheries cooperatives, out of which 15 are still closed.
The thriving industry includes 99 fishing villages spread across the coastal plains. There are 11 major and 37 minor landing centres in the district. The area numbers 9,488 fishing households, with a male population of 13,541 and a female population of 14,335, indicating a predominantly female-driven fishery industry.
Major marine catch includes mackerel, pomfret, searfish, ribbonfish, shrimp, lobster, mussels, clams, oysters etc. Less valuable species like Dhoma, Pink Perch, Cygnus also comprise about 44% of the total catch.
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