Activists detained to ensure land survey, confirm Ratnagiri police

Barsu-Solgaon Anti-Refinery Protests

Credit : Indie Journal


Section 144 has been invoked and activists Satyajit Chavan and Mangesh Chavan, associated with the movement against the Barsu-Solgaon refinery project in villages in Ratnagiri district’s Rajapur taluka, were detained by Ratnagiri police on Saturday. Ratnagiri Police Station In-Charge Surve (The female officer refused to give her first name) confirmed to Indie Journal that they were placed in a preventive detention, as the administration was set to begin a survey of the proposed area for the refinery in the Barsu-Solgaon surroundings, something that the villagers have been opposing vehemently for the past two years.

The protests had recently come in limelight with the heinous murder of a local journalist, Shashikant Varishe.

“We found out late on Saturday night that Satyajit and Mangesh were detained. They were in police station since morning itself. We are trying to find out more, but we are unable to get any details,” said Deepak Joshi, activist and a resident of Goval speaking to Indie Journal.

“They have been active in protests in the districts for long. They were also involved in protests in Jaitapur. They have been placed in preventive detention so as to prevent any untoward incident from happening,” Surve said. When asked if they would not be released until the survey is over, she said it was up to the court.

A couple of days ago, activists, including Satyajit, had given a call to the people of Konkan to come to Rajapur and stand in solidarity with the people of Barsu-Solgaon in protest of the survey. The talks of the survey had begun in the region then.

Speaking to Indie Journal at the time, he had said, “In order to get approvals to start the project, the government needs to submit a pre-feasibility report to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC). They came to the villages to try and conduct the survey multiple times in June and August last year, but the people did not let them. It seems that the government is under pressure to take things ahead now, and hence they are trying to conduct the survey using the police force.”

Satyajit Chavan has been working extensively in the villages around Barsu-Solgaon, where the Saudi-Aramco-backed fossil fuel petrochemical project was shifted, after it was withdrawn from the original Nanar site, not even 50 kms away, after strong opposition from locals. He has been actively involved in the movements associated with the environment and people’s rights in the region, right from the movement against the Jaitapur nuclear power project in the district.

“Mangesh, on the other hand, was not as actively involved in the protest against the refinery project as Satyajit this time, he was more active at the time of Jaitapur. Why they have arrested him is beyond us,” says Kamlakar Gurav, another activist who resides in Devache Gothane, which along with Goval is also part of the Barsu-Solgaon Panchakroshi that is going to be affected by the refinery project.

Meanwhile, Amol Bole, resident of Shivane and President of the Barsu Solgaon Refinery Virodhi Sanghatana, has also been targetted by the police. The Tehsil administration and the Magistrate office, Rajapur had issued an order stating that since 'Drilling work is to begin at the proposed site, Amol Ramesh Bole is prohibited from entering or moving around Rajapur Taluka.' Bole could not be reached regarding further details.

Invoking Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the Tehsil administration has prohibited public movement and gathering within 1 km radius of the drilling site at Barsu Sada, Barsu, Panhale Tarfe Rajapur, Dhopeshwar, Goval, Khalchi Wadi Goval, from April 22nd to May 31st.



Continuous action in Barsu-Solgaon

This arrest has not been the first legal challenge ahead of Satyajit since the movement began. He, along with a few other activists, is already fighting an externment notice from the district.

“The government has been attempting to suppress the movement quite hard by targeting the people involved in the protest. Even now, with the talks that the state might try to conduct survey at the proposed refinery site, a large police force is being deployed in Rajapur. We can already see police presence everywhere, we know that their meal arrangements are being made in the town. Ambulances have also been called,” Gurav said.

A few months ago, in November 2022, the government sent armed police personnel of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) and the Riot Control Police to carry out a route march in Rajapur and the surrounding villages where the refinery is planned. Along with Rajapur police, 60 RAF personnel and 29 Riot Control personnel were part of this march.

On February 6, Shashikant Varishe, a journalist who extensively covered the protest against the refinery was run over and killed by a refinery supporter with known ties to politicians, hours after Varishe’s report against the latter was published in the Marathi newspaper Dainik Mahanagari Times. Varishe’s murder drew condemnation from all across the nation. However, challenges ahead of the local protesters continue to intensify.



Firm opposition by Gram Panchayats

On the other front, the Gram Panchayats in the Barsu-Solgaon region have also passed resolutions that they will not let the surveys be conducted in the region and have submitted them to the Ratnagiri District Collector Office.

The District Collector Devender Singh, on Saturday evening, organised a meeting with the protesters as well as refinery supporters in Rajapur.



“However, we were informed barely 30 minutes prior to the time of the meeting. Many people wanted to attend the meeting, but they could not reach Rajapur at such short notice. Only four protesters reached. Meanwhile, the refinery supporters were present in large numbers. The Collector even gave them more time and barely even listened to what we had to say,” Gurav says.

“Overall, the administration seemed adamant on conducting the survey here, no matter what,” Joshi adds.

The activists feel that the detention of activists is a strategy to keep them both away from the protesters and the movement, in case the survey takes place.

“We will not let the survey happen, we are sure of that. We will keep opposing the project in a non-violent way,” the activists assert.