Protests against Ratnagiri Petro-Complex Project Intensify
by Ajit Patil

The coastal district of Ratnagiri in the Konkan region of Maharashtra is seething with anger against the Shinde-Fadnavis led BJP – Shiv Sena state government. The anger is against the proposed Barsu-Solgaon Refinery and Petrochemical complex with Aramco of Saudi Arabia and the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company holding 50 % stake 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.( It is necessary to note that out of the Indian partners one or two are on the anvil for sale to corporates) The anger is against the repressive measures unleashed on the villagers and the leaders of the movement across the district and even in Mumbai. The villagers, with predominant participation of women bearing the brunt of the state’s repression, are seething in anger against the leaders, ministers, MLAs and MPs from the region who are acting as land brokers (known locally as Dalals) mostly from the BJP and Shinde’s SS.

Earlier, two leaders of the Anti-Refinery struggle were arrested, but had to be released due to popular pressure, although with restrictions imposed by the court on their direct participation at the site.

In spite of 32 Gram Sabhas across 8 villages, with a total population of around 8000, passing resolutions opposing the Project and any activity related to the project, the Shinde-Fadnavis government, the Rane Family, and Uday Samant have been aggressively pushing the agenda of the fascist corporate masters in India and abroad. They have been making provocative and threatening statements against the villagers and their supporters.

The latest offensive was through the so-called soil survey of the land. From 22nd of April the villagers increased their vigilance against this, and on the 24th April they came out on the streets leading to the site. The struggle is being valiantly led by the women in the absence of the leadership kept away by the police and the courts. Section 144 of the Cr.P.Code was invoked at site, any coverage of the protest at site by way of social media posts, photos or video was prohibited. Any violation of the orders was threatened with action under section 188.  

The state had mobilised various arms of the coercive machinery for this. For a population of 8000 people they had brought in 2000 police personnel! Undaunted by this show of repressive machinery and the restrictions imposed, the protesters closed the roads by lying down on the streets in sweltering heat shouting slogans against the project, the police the government and state agents. The police attacked the protesters including women, lathi charged them and even lobbed tear gas shells. Over 100 protesters, mostly women, were beaten up, locked up and charged under various sections. 45 local residents were banned from entering the Ratnagiri district. Subsequently 6 office bearers of the local committee of the Anti-Refinery struggle have been arrested.

There have been big demonstrations in Mumbai by the young working population with roots in Konkan at different railway stations, against the Project and against the repression. There is a Maharashtra-wide mobilisation of different organizations to spread the struggle beyond Konkan and to enhance the solidarity.

The Shinde-Fadnavis government has carried out the soil testing exercise at site but the opposition to the project has grown, the courageous women are daily protesting using various methods like morning marches and hunger strikes: the methods of the freedom struggle against the British imperialists in these times of the second freedom struggle against the Corporate fascist raj.           

In 2015, a similar refinery was proposed by the then coalition government of BJP and Shiv Sena in an area around Nanar just 20 km away from the present site. 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. The Uddhav Thackeray led MVA government then wrote a letter to the Union Government proposing the new site.    

As usual, to justify the project as environment-friendly, the government insists it is a “green refinery project”. 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.

This determined and militant opposition by thousands of residents of the region and the support from people all over the country has forced various political parties like Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thakre, CPI, CPM, CPI (ML) and the alliance of the progressive parties to express their support for the people with the left and progressive parties taking an unequivocal pro-struggle, anti- project stand. The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has treaded cautiously. Sharad Pawar has advised the ruling dispensation to avoid repression but has supported the project. Congress is yet to take an unequivocal position supporting the struggle. The naked repressive stand and the pro- corporate pro-MNC stand of the BJP-Shinde SS, and the threatening and anti-people moves are surely going to cost both the parties and their abusive, repulsive leadership of the Rane-Samant-Fadnavis axis a lot politically in the election battle as well. The protesting people have however pointed out that none of the political parties except the left and progressive parties have so far unequivocally opposed the setting up of polluting industries in the Konkan region.

In a show of solidarity Com. Atul Sati of the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti in Uttarakhand has sent a video message to the fighting masses in Konkan. 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 fascist pro-corporate neoliberal policies on one hand and the masses of people on the other. We need to support the masses of people who are fighting to establish a system which will ensure fulfilment of their growing needs, while nurturing the environment and nature for future generations as the resolution of CPI(ML)’s 11th Party Congress on Environment clearly declares.

Ratnagiri Petro-Complex Project Intensify