Announcing a fresh tie-up with the Shiv Sena, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis Monday ceded one of its demands: shifting of the proposed mega oil refinery from Nanar in the ecologically sensitive Konkan. State-run oil majors have tied up with Saudi Aramco and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company for the refinery project in Ratnagiri district, which entails an investment of Rs 3 lakh crore.
Significantly, the announcement comes on the eve of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit to India. The 60-million tonne per annum refinery-cum-petrochemical complex has been conceived as the largest such facility in the world, to be set up on over 15,000 acres.
However, it was facing stiff resistance from the local populace, and the Sena, the ruling BJP's bickering ally, had said it was with the locals. "Shiv Sena presented this aspect (of local opposition) and we have accepted it. It (the project) will be come up at a place where it is acceptable to people," Fadnavis said, at a joint press conference to announce the renewal of the tie-up between the saffron allies for the ensuing polls in presence of Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.
Fadnavis, however, did not specify possible alternative sites where a project of this magnitude can be based. Reacting to the announcement, B Ashok, chief executive of the Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals (RRPCL), the joint venture executing the project, said he was happy that the project was moving ahead.
"The project is important and it has to come up in Maharashtra. We need coastal land for this project. And if they are making such land available for us (at another location), we are happy about it," he told PTI. Fadnavis said that the BJP-led state government had already stopped land acquisition for the project last year because of people's resistance. The acquisition process which has been carried out till now will be "nullified", he added.
Thackeray said his party was not opposed to the refinery, but people's wishes are important and must be considered. As recently as last month Ashok had exuded the confidence of completing the project as per the scheduled timeline of 2025, saying up to 40 per cent of the local people have already consented to land acquisition.
Fourteen villages and 850 families were likely to be impacted by the project. The coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra is part of the Western Ghats, considered one of the most fragile ecological zones in the world.
Those who opposed the project also cited this as one of the grounds. Half of RRPCL is owned by Indian oil PSUs -- Indian Oil Corporation, ONGC-owned Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum. The rest of the ownership is with Saudi Aramco and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company.
Nanar refinery would have been in the vicinity of the 10,000 MW Jaitapur nuclear power project, being developed jointly with the French EDF. The Jaitapur project, despite opposition from a section of the local population, is moving ahead.
(With inputs from agencies.)