Amid protests against a proposed oil refinery in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district, state Industries Minister Uday Samant on Tuesday said the current site for the mega project was suggested by then-CM Uddhav Thackeray, while the Opposition urged the government to stop soil survey work and be sensitive in handling the situation arising out of the agitation.
Samant's statement came in the backdrop of protests by local people in the coastal district against the soil survey work for the multi-billion dollar project over environmental damage concerns.
In a fresh agitation, more than 30 women were detained by the police after they protested by lying on the road to stop government vehicles from entering the project site at Barsu village, around 400km from Mumbai, while the Opposition Shiv Sena (UBT) demanded an immediate end to atrocities on protesters.
Samant alleged "misunderstandings" are being deliberately created about the project for political mileage and slammed the "politics of double standards", an apparent jibe at former CM Uddhav Thackeray and his MLA-son Aaditya Thackeray, who handled the environment portfolio in the previous Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government (November 2019 to June 2022).
On January 12, 2022, then-chief minister Uddhav Thackeray wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggesting that the state government can make available 1,300 acres of land and another 2,144 acres of land in Natya (area) for the refinery. He suggested the Barsu site for the project," Samant told a press conference in Nashik.
The minister, a Shiv Sena leader, claimed Uddhav Thackeray's letter also mentioned that there are no human settlements or trees on 90 per cent of this land.
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"The letter claimed the refinery project will not cause any environmental damage. The project will strengthen the economic condition of the state and Maharashtra's GDP will increase by 8.5 per cent. It will also reduce the import duty on petrochemical products and therefore the project should be established at Barsu, Samant said, quoting the letter.
Asked about the protests, the industries minister assured farmers would not be pressured for land.
Samant claimed out of 5,000 acres of land needed for the refinery, people owning 2,900 acres have already given consent letters.
He said the project is being opposed now only because Eknath Shinde, a former Cabinet colleague of Uddhav Thackeray who revolted against the Shiv Sena leadership in June 2022, is the chief minister.
I don't know why this letter was written and with whom discussions were held. Had Uddhav Thackeray been the CM, the project would have progressed till now," Samant said.
"We are holding discussions with farmers and understanding their problems. Even today, I discussed the issue with chief minister Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis. We will clear all misunderstandings of farmers," Samant said.
The state minister said the scale of the agitation has come down after a dialogue was held with farmers in Barsu.
Samant alleged "politics of double standards" was being played by some people who had targeted the Shinde-Fadnavis government over Maharashtra losing some key projects to other states.
In a press conference held at Shiv Sena Bhavan (in Mumbai) two months ago, a hue and cry was made about projects going out of Maharashtra. But now when we have brought projects into the state after hard efforts, they are ready to take the credit," said the minister.
Speaking about the survey at Barsu village which has triggered protests, the minister clarified the exercise has been undertaken to find out if the area is feasible for the refinery or not.
Earlier in the day, Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Ajit Pawar of the NCP demanded that protests by locals against the refinery be handled sensitively and that the state government stop the soil survey work till an amicable solution was found.
Doubts should be cleared with the help of experts if the resistance is due to environmental concerns, said the former deputy CM.
In a statement, Pawar said suppressing the voice of journalists reporting on protests against the refinery at Barsu in the district must be stopped.
Everyone has the right to protest in a democracy. The protesters are being arrested. The government should respect the sentiments of the locals and deal with the issue showing sensitivity, he said in the statement.
Pawar said CM Shinde and Deputy CM Devendra Fadnavis should find a solution through a dialogue.
The project was initially planned at Nanar in Ratnagiri districtt. Following protests by locals earlier, the erstwhile Uddhav Thackeray government had suggested to the Centre an alternative site at Barsu.
More than 30 women were detained by the police after they protested by lying on the road to stop government vehicles from entering the proposed refinery site at Barsu, an official said.
A government team was scheduled to conduct a survey at the site in Barsu and Solgaon areas of Rajapur, on Monday, but locals started staging protests, the official said.
Local people in the coastal district have been protesting against the soil survey work for the project.
Several women participated in the protest on Tuesday morning, during which they lay on the ground to prevent vehicles of the district administration and police from entering the area, he said.
Considering the law and order situation, hundreds of police personnel were deployed at the project site, the official said.
Shiv Sena (UBT) Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut demanded an immediate end to atrocities against locals in Barsu and asserted the party will not sit quietly on the issue and back the people.
Talking to reporters in Mumbai, Raut alleged the protesters at Barsu were being pressurised by Industries Minister Uday Samant with the help of police.
This is a government with a perverse mentality. They want a Jallianwala Bagh-like massacre. We are with people and the Shiv Sena (UBT) will not sit quiet, Raut said.
The Rajya Sabha member said CM Shinde should meet the protesters.
Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Aaditya Thackeray said, The government should stop atrocities on people and also the soil survey.
The former state environment minister said the previous MVA government had put some conditions before giving a nod to the project which included taking the locals into confidence and explaining the details of the venture and its benefits, Aaditya Thackeray said.
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