Agro-chemical firm got Alibag project approval months after electoral bond purchase

MIDC sought nod for the project 7 months after UPL Limited made the purchase.

Credit : Indie Journal


On November 15, 2022, United Phosphorus Limited (now UPL Limited), an agro-chemical company, purchased electoral bonds worth Rs 50 crore, that were then encashed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the alphanumeric data of the electoral bonds has revealed. Our investigation into it now shows, just seven months later in June 2023, the Union government went on to consider a proposal by the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) to establish a massive industrial complex in Raigad’s Alibag for two companies, one of them being UPL Limited, ignoring the opposition by locals and environmental activists.

Interestingly, the land allotted to United Phosphorus Limited, by the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, was also one of the 191 land parcels that was frozen by Chief Minister Eknath Shinde in August 2022, within a month after he broke off from Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena and formed a new government with BJP. In September 2023, the government ended the freeze on 181 of these land parcels, after it received flak over losing Foxconn-Vedanta semiconductor manufacturing project worth Rs 1.54 lakh crore to Gujarat. Two months after this, the company bought bonds worth Rs 50 crore for the BJP.

The company purchased 50 bonds worth Rs 1 crore each on November 15, 2022. The alpanumeric numbers of the bonds purchased by UPL Limted corresponded to the alphanumeric numbers of the bods encashed by BJP on November 18, 2022. In November 2022, BJP was in power in both the Centre and the State.



The MIDC sought green signal for the massive project from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) in the eco-sensitive region adjoining the Amba river, which is highly polluted and is also a National Inland Waterway - NW-10 - in June 2023. However, the land in question has been under contention for over two decades, when the MIDC first acquired it for a different project.

The land was earlier allotted to Tata Power Company by the MIDC, which was going to develop a thermal power plant here, using the coal imported from Indonesia. The land acquisition for this project faced several setbacks, including opposition from the locals over losses to farming land and compensation. The project was later cancelled by Tata Power citing increased cost of coal imported from Indonesia.

Years later, the MIDC sought approval for the land to be allotted to UPL Limited and Sinar Mars, an Indonesian conglomerate that manufactures paper products. The MIDC sought to develop a huge industrial complex in the area, attracting investment of around Rs 20,000 crores. The complex has also promised around 5,000 job opportunities for the locals.

A Mumbai-based environment group Conservation Action Trust (CAT) had cautioned against sanctioning of this project without proper environmental scrutiny.

The area in question consists of Amba river mudflats, mangroves etc and is identified under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ). As per a report by Hindustan Times (HT) published in September 2023, the project proponent stated that the proposed project area falls under the CRZ-II area. This means that area has already been developed up to or close to the shoreline and building restrictions here have been lifted under amendments to law made in 2019.

However, the images accessed by HT back then clearly showed the presence of mangroves on the plot, which would mean that the area should have been under the CRZ IA category. CRZ IA constitute ecologically sensitive area with geomorphological features like mangroves, coral reefs, etc. No new constructions are permitted within 500m of the High Tide Line (HTL) in the CRZ IA areas.



“The plot still has mangroves. The area is actually adjoining an estuary. The livelihood of the people living around it depends on paddy cultivation and fishing. So before granting approval to a chemical project in the region, a proper environmental impact assessment was necessary,” says Rajan Bhagat, environemental and social activist associated with Shramik Mukti Dal.

However, Bhagat tells Indie Journal that no such assessment was done. EIA reports are usually available online. But while reports for UPL Limited’s other plants in other locations can be found online, Indie Journal could not find the report for the proposed plant in Shahpur-Dherand.

“While MIDC has already acquired land in the area, the acquisition took place for the Tata Power Plant. We did not consent for a separate project, so we demanded that the MIDC conduct that process again. But the people here are tired now. It has been 19 years since the land acquisition. The farmers here cannot cultivate the land, nor do they have the jobs that were promised earlier. They want something to change,” Bhagat adds.

He has recently sent a letter to the MIDC asking the details of the new projects planned in this proposed industrial area and their impact.

However, the series of events that took place around the UPL Limited being allotted the land to the dates when they purchased electoral bonds for the party in power raises serious questions, just like it does with regard to the allotment of projects and approvals given to the company corresponding to the donations that they made to the ruling parties all across the country.