Nanar refinery row: Opposition, Shiv Sena put BJP in minority

The Nanar oil refinery project is turning out to be a spot of bother for the Devendra Fadnavis-led government, which is finding itself in a minority on the issue in the 282-member state Assembly.

The Congress, Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena on Thursday brought the proceedings of the Assembly to halt, for second day in a row, demanding the project be scrapped. The legislative Council also had to be adjourned over the issue, as the three parties came together.

Ahead of an election year, Opposition from the locals has brought rival parties together against the 40-billion-dollar project, putting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on backfoot. Together, their strength in the Assembly is 146.

“It is clear that the BJP government is a minority in the state Assembly over Nanar, with the Sena, Congress and NCP opposing it. While the Sena opposition may be for show, in the Assembly, their stand is against the government, and so the numbers are in our favour,” said Congress leader and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan.

This is also why the BJP chose not to suspend or take disciplinary action against the three legislators for unruly behavior in the Assembly, a day before. Sena legislators Pratap Sarnaik, Rajan Salvi and Congress legislator Nitesh Rane tried to run away with the Speaker’s mace on Wednesday.

The Sena is unlikely to walk out of the government at this stage over the issue, but it wants to register its opposition to the project. A section from the party is in favour of walking out in November or December and this project may be the turning point.

“We can put the issue to rest after the CM gives an unequivocal statement that the government will not impose the project on the people or that the project will be shifted elsewhere. In any case, ahead of an election year, given the opposition of the locals against the project, we have to take an aggressive stance,” said a senior Sena leader and minister, who did not want to be named.

In both the state Assembly and the Council, the Sena legislators demanded that the project be scrapped.

The pressure may force the state to look for an alternative site for the project along the west coast, but this is easier said than done.

“The CM can’t scrap the Centre’s project, so he is in a bind. He will continue to say the project will not be forced on people. In any case, the land acquisition procedure has been unofficially stayed from the time the industries minister spoke of denotifying the project,” said a senior BJP leader, adding that offering an alternative site was not feasible.

Earlier in the day, the state Assembly witnessed five adjournments over the project with both the Sena and Congress legislators protesting against the project in the well of the House and shouting slogans. Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil demanded the day’s proceedings be kept aside, unless the government announces scrapping of the project.

The Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Limited, a consortium of Indian Oil companies, signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi oil giant Aramco for developing this project in April, even as Fadnavis had said the project would not move forward without taking the locals into confidence. One of the two organisations of the project-affected persons, Konkan Refinery Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, had camped outside the Vidhan Bhavan on Wednesday.

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