Forty years ago, 32-year-old Sanjay Rane’s grandfather planted alphonso mango saplings on a 12-acre plot in Sagve village, 10km from Nanar in Ratnagiri district and 416km from Mumbai. It was a tough task, as planting the now-patented alphonso or hapus saplings on the slopes of the rocky terrain meant blasting pits and filling them with soil. Just like the mango trees, the income of the family grew.
Today, Rane’s joint family, three brothers and parents, depends on the 350 alphonso mango trees for their annual income of ₹10-₹15lakh.
The family now stands at crossroads, as they are among the 8,000 households who could lose their land to the ₹3lakh-crore Nanar oil refinery project spread across 15,000 acres in 14 villages of Ratnagiri district and two villages of Sindhudurg district. Rajapur taluka and Devgad taluka of the two districts in Sindhudurg, where the “globe’s largest project” will come up, are known for alphonso mangoes.
The refinery is expected to impact the supply of alphonso mangoes, as at least one lakh mango trees will be hacked to make way for it.
Cultivators claim 12.30 lakh mango trees will be razed for the refinery. The government’s estimates – 60,720 trees in 14 villages in Ratnagiri – are a fraction of the possible destruction, they say.
“Our estimation is 80% of the land is barren. There are 800-plus families living in core areas where the refinery will come up,” said B Ashok, chief executive officer, Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemicals Complex Limited (RRPCL), adding landowners will be compensated and rehabilitated.
“We have carried out an internal survey of every wadi (hamlet) in each of the 16 affected villages to arrive at this figure [12.30 lakh]. The government does not have the data because in the past two decades, several mango plantations have not been registered on the 7/12 land title with the talathi (taluka-level revenue official) for several reasons, including absence of talathis, demand for bribes and procedural delays. What the government deems barren or rocky is conducive to mango. All hill slopes here are filled with orchards,” said Ashok Walam, president of the Konkan Refinery Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti, an organisation of affected persons.
Ratnagiri collector Pradeep P said government records show only 1,500 acres of the 13,500 acres of the project-affected district is under horticulture.
The government’s calculation of about 100 mango trees for each hectare, which leads to the figure of 60,720 trees for 1,500 acres or 607 hectares, has also been contested by farmers.
“There is a possibility of more area being under horticulture ...but it may not be more than 500 to 600 acres. We suggested a joint land survey to get accurate data, but protesters shut it down.”
WON’T BUDGE, SAY FARMERS
After the political uproar and the Shiv Sena taking a stand against the refinery, the land survey and acquisition procedures have come to a standstill.
Anant Shankar Gurav, a mango farmer who owns 100 trees, said he would rather die than give his land to the state. “Even if I am given 10 flats in Mumbai (a 2-BHK flat in Mumbai costs around ₹3 crore) and crores of rupees as compensation, I will not give up my 200 mango trees, 300 cashew trees and 60 cows,” said Vilas Atmaram Tawde, 55, who may lose 12acres.
The fishing community, too, is not too happy with the refinery. At Ingalwadi village, on the banks of Vijaydurg creek, the community claims 850 families stand to get affected as eight pipelines from the refinery are likely to pass through the area. “These pipelines will cover an area of 35km. The habitat of marine life will be affected. While farmers will be compensated, we will lose everything,” said Majid Bhatkal, leader, Refinery Virodhi Shetkar Macchimar Samiti.
“The project will destroy alphonso mango trees, not only those that will be hacked, but even those in the vicinity. The fruit is sensitive to heat and the refinery will increase the temperature,” said Manoj Desai, a mango cultivator from Kumbhavde that falls in the eco-sensitive zone and will be circled by the refinery complex.
Forty-six-year old Suhash Shankar Tawde, resident of Vilye village, who inherited his mango farm from his father, said, “The refinery will lead to a substantial decline in groundwater levels and chemical interaction with the water that reaches these mangoes for nourishment.”
The Land Acquisition Bill, 2013, mandates that for any public partnership project, the authorities will need the nod of 70% residents of the area where the project is being developed.
“In our case, 92% of residents in these 16 villages are against the project,” said Munaf Thakur, head, Girye Sangharsh Samiti, one of the organisations opposing the refinery. The eight gram sabhas covering the 16 villages have passed a resolution opposing the project. “There has been no public consultation,” said Suresh Kedkar, Rameshwar Sangharsh Samiti.
“Why would we want jobs as security guards at the refinery, when we can hire workers for our mango orchards?”
That’s a question this reporter came across at project-affected villages, where the mango season is in full swing.
“I am a 44-year-old farmer who never went to college. As a mango cultivator who owns 1,500 trees, I hire 13 to 20 workers, some on a permanent basis, to run my orchard. Why would I want to work at the refinery,” asked Sandesh Prabhudesai from Nanar village, whose family owns 150 acres.
Nearly, 1.20 lakh Nepalis work in Ratnagiri district in the hapus belt as security guards and labourers, managing the orchards.
“We earn about ₹15,000 a month and stay here between November and May. If the refinery comes up, we will be forced to give up on our source of income. Most of us will fall out of jobs and go back home,” said Sujon Djorje, a Nepali national who works in Dongar village.