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Press Release [FREE Access]
Petro Intelligence » Ratnagiri Refinery: Need To Expose The Forces Out To Scuttle Project

By R. Sasankan

Rabble rousers can easily inflame passions among indigent populations and effortlessly unleash a lava of popular anger against public policy and projects. Cunning and resourceful politicians in India -- most of whom are in the pay of the big business lobbies -- have at various points in time been able scuttle projects of economic benefits by raking up irrelevant and emotive issues.

Mass poverty provides the hotbed where such pernicious practices thrive. Over the years, India has witnessed the amazing spectacle of the rural poor being deliberately misled to agitate on imaginary issues like ecology and pollution and scuttle large industrial projects that can provide mass employment. The naive will continue to be in the thrall of these unprincipled politicians and the self-styled environmental activists who have ulterior motives while provoking poor people to work against their own interests.

We have seen this scenario play out many times in the past. Not very long ago, we saw how farmers were swept up in a cauldron of protest against the Tata car project at Singur in the Hooghly district of West Bengal, forcing one of the largest industrial groups in the country to shift the plant to Gujarat leading to a tremendous loss of business opportunity. An imaginative political leadership could have resolved the issue by providing a remunerative price to the farmers for their land and ensuring them jobs in the car project. The agitation ruined the political fortunes of the Marxist Communist party which ruled the state without interruption for 37 years and paved the way for Mamata Banerjee’s rise to power. Banerjee's political party, the Trinamul Congress, extended total support to the agitation of the farmers. Result: West Bengal floundered and turned into an economically backward state, forcing its unemployed youth to travel all the way to states like Kerala in search of jobs.

The provocation for this column is the developments surrounding the 60 MMTPA mega refinery project proposed on the west coast in the state of Maharashtra. The Covid-19 pandemic has killed so many projects in the petroleum sector all over the world. Oil majors such as Saudi Aramco, ExxonMobil and BP are facing serious liquidity problems. Aramco reportedly walked out of the prestigious refinery project in China. There were media reports that Aramco would drop out of the mega refinery project in Maharashtra too. Surprisingly, both Aramco and Adnoc of UAE  remain committed to it. The Government of India cannot afford to let them down.

The future of the refinery seemed to be blighted when the villagers in the Ratnagiri area launched an agitation in 2018 against locating the refinery in the "ecologically sensitive" Ratnagiri district. The agitation had the support of the Shiv Sena, a partner in the then BJP-led government in the state. The very same Shiv Sena is now heading the government with the BJP in the opposition. The very same villagers who opposed the refinery two years ago are now keen to have the refinery in the same location at Ratnagiri. (Read column Policy for details).

The 60 MMTPA integrated refinery-cum-petrochemicals complex will be the largest in the world. No sensible government can afford to lose such a project which, along with the associated industrial clusters, has the potential to create 50,000 jobs. In fact, India almost fluffed the investment opportunity -- a disaster that was barely averted because of the strong affinity at the highest levels with the political leadership in the two countries and the allure that the Indian market holds over foreign investors.

It is now abundantly clear that the agitation against the refinery was instigated by some powerful business lobbies. Who could that be? The house of Tatas never indulges in such unethical business practices. Mukesh Ambani and his Reliance Industries have excellent relations with Aramco and the Saudi Kingdom. Adani, who is considered close to Prime Minister Modi, will not do anything to harm the refinery project. Even if an intelligent guess is possible by an enterprising journalist, he cannot afford to write about it because of the perils of a defamation charge that will stick in the absence of documentary evidence.

It is absolutely clear that some very powerful forces are opposed to the project. The same force is believed to have worked against the Tata car project at Singur. This has nothing to do with rivalry in the automobile industry. The strategy is to block the growth of the house of Tatas. This mimics the cloak-and-dagger ploy that powerful western intelligence agencies use by covertly funding rival terrorist and religious groups that can be tapped to attain a strategic objective whenever the situation demands.

The opponents of the refinery project had hoped if land acquisition for the mega refinery was delayed, Aramco and Adnoc would pull out of the project. That has not happened. As reported in our policy column in the same issue, the promoters of the refinery have made it abundantly clear that they want the refinery in the coastal location and the alternate location in Raigad district, which was proposed by the previous Fadnavis government, is not acceptable. If the coastal location is not possible, they will exercise the option to leave Maharashtra and go to a state which offers a suitable location. The Shiv Sena which supported the agitation against the refinery in Ratnagiri cannot be enthusiastic in acquiring land for the project in the same area. Nearly 70 per cent of the originally identified location was barren land which overnight became ecologically sensitive. For the Maharashtra government, more particularly for the Shiv Sena, losing the project to a neighbouring state can be politically damaging. It appears that the villagers are willing to launch an agitation to bring the refinery project back to Ratnagiri.

Normally, Indian Oil Corporation, which leads the Indian PSUs in the mega refinery consortium, is resourceful enough to identify the mysterious forces that have been working against the refinery. But it does not seem to have exercised its investigative skills that it is believed to possess. The Modi government must have already received reports from its Intelligence Bureau. True, the evidence in such cases cannot be water tight and fool proof but it is sufficient for an alert government to act. The issue is serious enough to warrant intervention at the highest level so that the project wreckers are identified and exposed.



To download the latest issue 'Volume 27 Issue 22 - February 25, 2021', click here
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