Thousands of villagers in the coastal Konkan region of Maharashtra are opposing the proposed construction of the world’s largest oil refinery and petrochemical complex by a consortium of Indian and foreign companies. The project, which is estimated to cost around $44 billion, is a joint venture between Saudi Aramco, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), Indian Oil Corporation Limited, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited, and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited.
The project site is located in Ratnagiri district, which is known for its ecologically sensitive and biodiverse environment. The region is home to mango orchards, cashew plantations, fishing villages and ancient rock carvings. The villagers fear that the refinery and petrochemical unit, which will require 6,200 acres of land from 14 villages, will destroy their livelihoods, health and environment.
The villagers have been protesting against the project since 2014, when it was first mooted. They have staged road blockades, hunger strikes, shaved their heads and faced police action to express their dissent. In April 2019, following large-scale protests and political pressure from the Shiv Sena party, which is part of the ruling coalition in Maharashtra, the state government announced that the project would be shifted from its original location in Nanar village to another site in Barsu village.
However, the villagers of Barsu and neighboring areas are also opposed to the project and have resumed their agitation. In April 2023, when the authorities started conducting soil testing at Barsu, the villagers prevented them from entering the site and clashed with the police. The villagers have also filed a petition in the Bombay High Court challenging the environmental clearance given to the project by the central government.
The project proponents claim that the refinery and petrochemical complex will boost India’s energy security, create jobs and spur economic growth. They also say that the project will use state-of-the-art technology to minimize environmental impact and adhere to all regulatory norms. However, the villagers are not convinced and demand that the project be scrapped or relocated to a less populated and less fertile area.