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‘Political compulsions to delay Ratnagiri refinery project till next polls’

MUMBAI

Last week, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis told the Assembly that land acquisition for the Rs 3 lakh crore refinery at Nanar on the Konkan coast in Ratnagiri district of the state is on hold, after those protesting the move reached Mumbai. However, Fadnavis stopped short of cancelling the notification. The project is likely to get delayed as no movement is expected towards land acquisition at least till the next assembly elections, say observers.

Even measurement of land, the first step in the process, had to be stopped within few days of start of the exercise last year, as Shiva Sena has been a vocal opponent to the Nanar refinery project as much as it was against the Jaitapur nuclear project, again on the Konkan coast.

“While announcing that the land acquisition process has been halted, the CM kept mum over the original demand for cancellation of the notification and Shiv Sena too kept mum over the issue. When we met the CM a few weeks back, he had assured us that he would come here and speak to people before taking any decision on the project. If the CM goes back on his word, we shall restart our agitation,” said Bhai Sawant, Shetkari Machichimar Kruti Samiti (SMKS).

This threatens the future and the timelines of the refinery project — a mega project and a prestigious one for which the government was able to rope in giant global oil companies like Saudi Aramco and UAE’s Adnoc as joint venture (JV) partners. The 60 million tonnes a year Ratnagiri Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd project is designed as a 50:50 JV between Indian oil companies IOC, HPCL, BPCL and the two gulf oil companies. Aramco and Adnoc signed MoUs in high profile ceremonies in New Delhi this year.

Nanar project is the largest of the refinery complexes at a single site planned by public sector oil companies in a joint venture, at an estimated cost of `3 lakh crore. While India has excess refinery capacity, looking at the continued growth in fuel and petrochemicals demand and an eye on exports, a mega coastal refinery was planned. Delays affecting the project are not surprising, given the difficulties HPCL faced when it planned a west coast refinery at Konkan and had to abandon it due to land acquisition issues as well as an environmental embargo on the Western Ghats.

Former BJP MLA from the area, Pramod Jathar, says that the step to stop land acquisition this time is aimed at buying a temporary truce with the Shiv Sena. He strongly feels that the project would gain pace once the package for land acquisition is announced. BJP’s coalition partner Shiv Sena has been the strongest opponent of this project and the State Industries Minister Subhash Desai had, in a public meeting in Konkan, promised to cancel the notification.

“Most of the people who have been opposing the project are the cultivators, and not the land owners. The land owners are willing to part away with the land for the project. But, the cultivators are worried about prospective loss of livelihood, and hence, are agitating. If the government assures them of a good package, their opposition to the project too shall wither away,” Jathar said.

Compared to HPCL’s attempt, this time, the oil companies were confident of the project as the government kept assuring that the land is already with them. But, that is not the case, unlike the upcoming Rajasthan refinery for which the government had land, says a former oil company executive.

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