Nanar refinery row: How a Rs 3 lakh crore project in Konkan has Congress, Shiv Sena at loggerheads

India’s biggest oil refinery project entailing an investment of Rs 3 lakh crore, proposed to come up in Maharashtra's Ratnagiri, has recently come under the scanner with the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) state government struggling to form a consensus on the project.

The proposed greenfield Nanar refinery project in Maharashtra was cleared by the Centre and state governments back in December 2015 and was set to pass through land spread across 17 villages in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts.

Owing to strong opposition from locals towards the project, Thackeray had recently announced that the state government will not proceed with the Nanar oil refinery project. But, the Maharashtra Congress has decidd to go against Thackeray, and now extended its support to construct the oil refinery at Nanar village in Ratnagiri district.

For the tripartite MVA government, this is the second instance in a month’s time when the Congress has openly taken a stand contrary to its allies, especially the Shiv Sena. Earlier, the Congress had opposed the state government’s decision to cancel reservations in promotions.

What is the project?

The Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Ltd (RRPCL) is commonly referred to as the Nanar project. This project was proposed to be set up in Ratnagiri district in 2015 as a joint venture between Indian investors like Indian Oil, Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum, and the Saudi-owned Aramco.

The 60-million tonne per annum refinery-cum-petrochemical complex is estimated to cost of Rs 3 trillion and will come up in over 15,000 acres in Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts of the Konkan region of Maharashtra.

The project, to come up at Babulwadi village, would be the world's largest green-field refinery-cum-petrochemical complex when commissioned and would require 15,000 acres, which need to be acquired from farmers.

State-owned oil refiners – Indian Oil Corporation, the ONGC-owned Hindustan Petroleum, and Bharat Petroleum – jointly own 50 percent in the project, while Saudi Aramco and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company own the rest of the equity.

What's the process made so far?

In January 2019, the then BJP-led state government had notified 19,146 hectares of land in Raigad as an integrated industrial cluster. The government had even initiated the process of land survey.

However, work on the project was shelved suddenly before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections over “environmental concerns” expressed by the Shiv Sena. The scrapping of the project was one of the conditions of the Shiv Sena for a tie-up with the BJP ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha and state Assembly polls.

As the Sena was opposed to Nanar refinery citing local opposition, then Maharashtra cheif minister Devendra Fadnavis, while announcing a tie-up between the BJP and Sena for the polls, had announced that the project would be shifted.

It must be noted, that the Konkan region is the Shiv Sena's biggest vote bastion. The party has been averse to the oil refinery project coming up in Konkan, citing the adverse environmental impact of the project on the ecologically sensitive region.

Shiv Sena opposes project

So, in March 2019, the BJP-led Maharashtra government, in which the Shiv Sena was its partner, made it clear that the project will not come up at Nanar. The then-BJP-Shiv Sena government signed a proposal to denotify the land which was to be acquired. It was announced at that time that the project would be shifted. Fadnavis, however, did not specify possible alternative sites where a project of this magnitude can be based

But then again, in September 2019, Fadnavis once again said the state government was keen on building Asia’s biggest and first green oil refinery in Konkan, according to The Indian Express.

After the state Assembly elections, the NCP, Shiv Sea and Congress formed the MVA government in the state under the leadership of Thackeray.

Accordign to a report in The Indian Express, in October 2019, the Thackeray government denotified the 19,146-hectare land reserved in Raigad district by the previous Devendra Fadnavis-led government for the mega oil refinery. Instead, Thackeray announced the proposal of a built-in pharmaceutical metropolis in Raigad.

As per The Hindu, the proposed pharmaceutical park would be set up near the town of Roha by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and will primarily focus on units making bulk drugs.

Raj Thackeray takes U-turn, backs project

However, the Nanar refinery again made headlines in 2021, when Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray took a U-turn on the project, saying that the state government cannot afford to let go of the refinery if it has to rise above the corona inflicted financial strain.

In March 2021, Raj Thackeray wrote to Uddhav Thackeray, urging him to ensure that the oil refinery project that was proposed to be set up at Nanar village in coastal Ratnagiri district, does not go out of the state.

"Some time ago, I read that a major international project was passed on to Bengaluru and the Maharashtra government was trying its best to get it back. The other states are in a cut-throat game of snatching projects from Maharashtra. In such trying times, Maharashtra should not let go of the 'Ratnagiri Rajapur refinery' project," the MNS chief said in his letter to the chief minister, his estranged cousin.

"This is a massive project of nearly Rs three lakh crore. We surely cannot afford to lose this project to another state," he added. It's important to remember here that Raj Tahckeray had opposed this project and supported the local villagers protesting against it.

As per PTI, Raj Thackeray also sent similar letters to NCP supremo Sharad Pawar and BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis.

"Presently, there is one opportunity knocking at the door. The coronavirus backdrop has altered our perspective and the real context of situations. There is a serious contest to get investments into the states and the country. The present situation is such that Maharashtra cannot afford to let go of any new project or a project that can bring in foreign investment. If we let this happen, we will lose our status of being a pioneer state in the industrial growth of our country," Thackeray said.

Even a task force set up by the Maharashtra government to revive the state’s economy during the COVID-19 pandemic has recommended starting the refinery proposed in Konkan to boost employment and encourage investment.

The chief minister, however, said that the government will approve projects only if locals are in favour of it, reports Hindustan Times.

After MNS, Congress backs project

Backing the MNS chief's stand for the project, Maharashtra Congress party president Nana Patole, who was on a tour to inspect the damage caused by Cyclone Tauktae in Ratnagiri district earlier this week, said that the oil refinery at Nanar will bring huge investments and provide employment to the local people.

"The state government should address the issue pertaining to Nanar oil refinery. The project should happen at Nanar only," Patole was quoted by New Indian Express as saying, even as his party's own sarpanch Prabhudesai from Nanar opposed the project saying it will threaten the ecosystem and beauty of the Konkan region.

Earlier, when the BJP-led government was in power, the Opposition Congress, NCP, and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, and the  Shiv Sena, were all in support of the locals who were opposed to the project as they claimed that it would damage the fragile ecology.

Shiv Sena reiterates stand, opposes project at Nanar

However, the Shiv Sena has stood its ground on the issue.

Soon after the MNS chief spoke about reviving the project, Thackeray reiterated his party's stand, saying that the proposed oil refinery project would not come up at Nanar village in Ratnagiri district.

According to Free Press Journal, the chief minister said that the project is a "closed chapter" and the government will not push for the same considering the opposition from local villagers.

But, he also announced that an alternative site has been identified for the project. “The government knows it cannot give up a big project like this," The Hindu quoted him as saying. He further said the project will go ahead at an alternative location with consent from locals.

As per Times of India, former MLA Ashish Deshmukh had written to Uddhav Thackeray, asking him to shift the project to the Vidarbha region.

With inputs from agencies


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