Friends of the Earth India extends its solidarity with the people of Barsu Solgaon, Ratnagiri, and condemns the suppression of the protestors of anti refinery movement. The local community, under the banner of ‘Barsu Solgaon Panchkroshi Refinery Virodhi Sanghathan’ along with environmentalists across the Konkan region and Maharashtra, have been opposing the setting up of Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited (RRPCL).
The project was initially proposed in 2015 at Nanar village, Rajapur, in the Sindhudurg district, with a total investment of 3 lakh crore and a refining capacity of 60 million tonnes per annum, making it one of the largest refineries in the world. The company will have a 50% shareholding from Saudi Aramco and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and the rest from Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation, and Bharat Petroleum Corporation.
The project faced opposition in Nanar and was forced to shift the project to Barsu-Solgaon village, which is around 20 km from Nanar, with a reduced land acquisition from 15000 acres to approximately 6000 acres, impacting eleven villages. These include Barsu, Solgaon, Goval, Devache, Gothane, Shivne Khurd, Sogamwadi and Rautwadi.
The plateau, also known as Sada, on which RRPCL is proposed is a biodiversity hotspot that supports the local community. Sadas are globally endangered habitats with extremely specialized endemic plant and animal diversity not seen anywhere else in the world. It is a source of drinking water for villages and provides food (rice, pulses, fish) and fodder to the communities. Barsu is also the home of more than 62 geoglyphs and is the largest cluster of geoglyphs in the coastal belt of Konkan. The Sada plateaus host thousands of prehistoric geoglyphs, which remain unexplored to a large extent. Geoglyphs are evidence pointing to the presence of human settlement in the Konkan region from the Mesolithic era till the historic era.
The proposed Barsu refinery will have a long-term effect on the region, particularly agriculture, due to the chemicals and pollution. The local community depends on Alphonso mango plantation, cashew plantation, and fishing for their livelihood. The toxic discharge and air emissions from the refinery will pose a threat to these traditional livelihoods. Apart from losing livelihood, RRPCL will have serious implications on people’s health. Though the government claims that this project will generate ‘huge employment,’ the local community has been largely self-reliant and does not want the disruption of their livelihood from toxic projects.
The government of Maharashtra has deployed unprecedented police personnel since 23rd April 2023 on the ground in Barsu Solgaon, block Rajapur, district Ratnagiri to conduct soil testing and other tests to deal with opposition from the local population.
On 25th April 2023, the police restricted the media’s entry into the plot for the proposed refinery. They detained locals who protested the access of soil testing team vehicles to the proposed site. The Ratnagiri police imposed Section 144 in Ratnagiri’s Barsu and Solgaon villages, banning large gatherings in the area.
Despite the restrictions, villagers, especially women, reached the proposed project site to stop the land survey. Around 50-60 women protestors blocked the road by lying on the ground to stop the survey cars from moving towards the proposed project site at Barsu plateau. Police lathi-charged the protesters, and 45 women protesters were detained and destroyed the tents where women and children were camping. Police continue to arrest people. As of now, more than 100 protestors have been arrested.
Friends of the Earth India condemns the use of brute force on the local community without dialoguing with the people and addressing their concerns. Friends of the Earth India adds its voice to the demands of the people of Ratnagiri:
- The present forceful survey, testing, and repression of all the protesters by the government apparatus at Barsu -Solgaon should be stopped immediately.
- All cases filed against environmental activists, protestors and locals should be withdrawn immediately, and banishment notices be withdrawn. Release all the arrested activists and villagers immediately.
- The concerns about the largest refinery in the world are not just a local issue but one which needs to be implemented only after taking into account the ecological importance of the region, the concerns of the local population, and its impact on the region.
- Konkan region is a biodiverse area. No polluting, environmentally destructive RED category projects should be proposed and executed in the Konkan region, especially not without taking local people into full confidence, undertaking in-depth research, and following all the constitutional tenets.
- In taking up development and infrastructure projects, the Government of Maharashtra must fully adhere to principles of environmental sustainability and aim at promoting local, nature-enabling products.
Cover photo: Locals protest at Barsu Solgaon of the Rajapur block in Ratnagiri.
Photo credit: Twitter@aviuv