As I write this on 16th April 2018, the prominent political parties who oppose the refinery at Nanar, Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra include the Indian National Congress, The Nationalist Congress Party and The Shiv Sena. Other fringe groups like the Swabhiman party and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena also object to it being established.
The only major political party which favours the refinery, a joint venture amongst 3 of India’s biggest Oil companies and Saudi Aramco, is the Bharatiya Janata Party which governs the State and the Central Government.
From a cynical point of view I think that the opposition is because political parties who are not in power feel the need to oppose everything. The Shiv Sena and the Swabhiman party may be part of the NDA but they have always behaved as if they are not. They have been balancing enjoying power with keeping a distance from the BJP because getting too close to the BJP may result, they fear, in loss of identity. If the BJP manages to get that refinery established, they will be able to get lot of political mileage from the optics of the whole project. This political mileage for the BJP means that much poorer image of the others. Electoral politics is a zero sum game after all.
They are not saying that, of course. They are talking about people in the area not wanting the refinery and that they are not supporting the refinery because the people don’t want it.
I can totally understand why people of coastal Ratnagiri do not want the refinery. As experience from all over the world has shown; when the refinery is established
- People who have been living there are going to lose their homes, their farms, their livelihoods and way of life. In the case of Nanar this is around 14 villages across 9 gram Panchayats ALL of whom have opposed the project. Experience from India shows that Project Affected Persons seldom get any sensible compensation for loss of assets, livelihoods and way of life. We have cases pending for decades. There is no reason to believe that the people who are going to be affected in Nanar are going to get fair compensation.
- Apart from the land on which the refinery will be established, neighbouring areas will get affected as well. The pollution resulting from the refinery will affect land for miles and the seas. Remember that having refinery there means tankers plying the sea routes which means pollution from operations as well as danger of spills. Which means destruction of livelihoods of thousands of people for generations. People who currently make their living from land (remember that this is the land of the Alphonso mangoes. Do you want to see an adverse impact on the mango crop?), fishing in the seas and tourism (Ratnagiri has lovely beaches that are, for most part, unspoilt by over tourism). This impact may not be restricted to Rajapur tehsil. The adverse impact will be seen all along the coast for many miles. If you don’t believe me, please read about what the Shell refineries have done to the Niger delta over decades and what costs the locals have had to pay for the fat cats in Amsterdam, London, Abuja and Lagos to make super profits.
- The people who are going to make all the sacrifice are not going to reap the benefits.
- They are not going to get employment because they may not have, at this moment, the skills to do so. They may get unskilled work, of course as we have seen in other mining projects in India.
- The revenue generated by the refinery will be enjoyed and controlled by people who do not live there. They will spend few paise of the millions of rupees they generate in the area. The rest will be spent elsewhere. Someone sacrifices and someone else benefits; why would the people sacrificing agree?
I know that I stand the chance of getting accused of being a luddite. I can almost hear cries of
- “but we need refineries to fuel our growing economy”
- “if Maharashtra does not do this, Gujarat will” This must be Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis’s biggest nightmare scenario.
- “All development comes at a cost and if a few have to pay the price for the many, so be it” invariably said by the ones who do not have to pay the price.
- “that is why China is soooo ahead of us.”
To them, I say, in advance
It is not that I am opposed to the project. However, I do think that the government has the responsibility to
- inform the affected about the impact and benefits. Please note that the affected are not only those in those 14 villages. Many more are going to be affected.
- then take them into confidence and get their approval. Incidentally this is what the Land Acquisition Act says.
- pay them fair compensation – money on the nose, jobs and projects.
- not ram through Environmental & Social Assessment studies but actually pay heed to what they say.
- ensure that funds are set aside to deal with ecological damage that is sure to follow.
Somehow I don’t see government doing this. If they cannot, they should not implement the project. If they can do all that, they are more than welcome to start the refinery.