Local protests hit world's largest refinery project by oil PSUs

In December 2016, the government’s three oil marketing companies — Bharat Petroleum Corporation (BPCL), Hindustan Petroleum Corporation (HPCL), and Indian Oil Corporation (IOCL) — signed an agreement to set up a mega refinery, of 60 million tonnes capacity. Dharmendra Pradhan, the petroleum minister, had then said there was agreement on a location in the Konkan region of Maharashtra. 

More than a year later, public support for the project, to be set up in the Ratnagiri district, is missing. “The joint venture (JV) of the three companies has filed an intent with the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion to put up the refinery. We have not entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the JV at this stage, for the simple reason that the state government has to decide, and that decision will depend on whether there is public support to the project or not,” said a state official, on condition of anonymity. 

At the Magnetic Maharashtra Summit in Mumbai last month, no MoU was signed for the project. Earlier this month, the world’s largest oil company, Saudi Aramco, had entered into a deal for taking stake in the refinery, Saudi Arabia Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih had said. Ratnagiri district’s Land Acquisition Authority has a letter of objection for the project. “Preliminary notification (for land acquisition) for the project under MIDC (the state’s industrial development entity) rules has been made. After this, we call for a hearing of objections and we are in the process of hearing these,” said another state official. Further steps would be taken to assess public opinion and decide on the project’s fate once the current state assembly session ends, said the first official quoted earlier.

“We are ready to go ahead with the project. For such a mega refinery (60 million tonnes capacity), with a requirement for 15,000 acres, the total number of families to be replaced will be only 800. This is rocky land and not heavily utilised for agriculture, too. The state government will have to take a final call, on land acquisition and all,” said B Ashok, chief executive officer of Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals (RRP), the JV entity. IOCL owns 50 per cent, HPCL 25 per cent, and BPCL another 25 per cent in it. 

IOCL had proposed a similar plan in the past and it never saw the light of day, due to land acquisition issues. 

Maharashtra polls are scheduled in 2019. With the mass farmer protest in Mumbai this month, the government has reason for caution. 

Said the state official quoted earlier: “The government is fully convinced that it is a big (and needed) investment, but you cannot impose the project on 10,000 to 20,000 people without consent.”

Babulwadi was selected from 10 locations the Maharashtra government had suggested. According to the Census of 2011, the village has a population of 564.   

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