Maha Police burst teargas, cane anti-refinery protesters

400 villagers, including many women, attempted to stop a team conducting soil testing work in one of the villages, according to activists

Barsu Refinery (IANS Photo)
Barsu Refinery (IANS Photo)

NH Political Bureau

Local leaders in Maharashtra’s Barsu announced that no protests would take place over the next three days, starting Friday. If soil inspection doesn't stop within the next three days, protests will resume, they said.

On the fifth day of the ongoing protests against the proposed Ratnagiri Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd coming up with Arab help, police burst teargas shells and cane-charged protesters who attempted to block the ongoing soil survey work in the affected villages on Friday.

The problems started when over 400 villagers, including many women, attempted to stop a team conducting soil testing work in one of the villages, according to activists.

The Ratnagiri Police, which had already clamped prohibitory orders in the region till May 31 to enable the soil testing work, accosted the villagers and attempted to disperse them but they resisted.

As they started running towards the soil testing team, the police stopped them and tried to push them away from the officials, but the locals continued to defy and tried to enter the testing area.

Amid the huge ruckus, screaming, shouting, at one point the police caned the protesters running and burst teargas shells to drive them away.

According to an activist, Sachin Chavan, the police bundled off more than 500 villagers in six waiting vehicles from the soil testing site and took them into detention, though the number of arrests is not clear yet.

"We are not allowed to go to these areas. The mobile phones of the villagers have been seized, several of our activists have been externed for two weeks from the district, and the media are facing restrictions," said Sachin Chavan.

Another activist of Sustainable Konkan Movement, Satyajit Chavan, said in Mumbai that "the people in the region are being repressed by the use of police force", and not allowed to protest in a democratic manner.

Satyajit Chavan said that the police had arrested him and others under political pressure and "democracy is in danger", appealing to the people of Konkan to unitedly oppose the proposed RRPL project.

In Mumbai, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde said that there was no caning (lathi-charge) by the police though videos of the incident were being aired on social media and several local television channels.

Shinde said that the project will not be implemented without taking the locals into confidence, even as the villagers' leader Kashinath Gorle said the agitation has been suspended for 3 days to hold talks with the government.

The Opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and others have slammed the ruling Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party regime, accusing it of excesses on the protesting villagers.

At least one injured person has been injured, hundreds have been detained, many fell ill in the fields owing to the scorching 40 degrees Celsius temperature in the afternoon during the agitation.

Earlier on Friday morning, Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Vinayak Raut was detained and prevented from going to the soil testing areas.

Nationalist Congress Party's Leader of Opposition Ajit Pawar, Supriya Sule, MP, state Congress president Nana Patole, chief spokesperson Atul Londhe, Sena (UBT) MP Sanjay Raut, SSS president Raju Shetti have criticised the Eknath Shinde government.

They called upon the government to immediately hold negotiations with the villagers, understand their problems or objections, and not push through the projects.

Appealing for discussions, Industry Minister Uday Samant reiterated that as assured by the chief minister, the project will not be taken up without the consent of the locals, but made it clear that the government will not entertain 'any outsiders'.

The villagers have set preconditions -- remove the police force in the region, stop the soil testing immediately, release people under detention, withdrawal of police notices/cases against the protesters, etc., before the talks with the locals on the project.

Protests and a political slugfest again hit the planned Rs 300,000-crore RRPL mega-venture - promoted by IOCL, HPCL and BPCL - coming up in Rajapur taluka with the help of Saudi ARAMCO and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, and would be the world's biggest single location refinery.

The RRPL project will be barely some km from the proposed world's largest Jaitapur Nuclear Power Plant (JNPP) in Ratnagiri, which has also been mired in controversies, strong opposition and protests by the locals since over a decade.

Farmers and fishermen are opposed to the project in the area over fears for their livelihood.

Some residents raised concerns about pollution and whether a green refinery is possible.

Local MP Vinayak Raut was scheduled to take out a march against the project in Barsu. He was detained by the police and released later. Local farmers ran directly to the site where soil was being tested and took an aggressive stance. Some villagers were injured in the incident.

Industries minister Uday Samant, also the guardian minister of Ratnagiri district, said: “The local people are protesting. If any lathicharge was done against them we will definitely inquire about it. But why are people coming here from outside? To support the locals or to play politics and escalate the issue? People should understand that the project is in a nascent stage.”

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines