Barsu-Solgaon: Journalist run-over for reporting anti-refinery voices, dies
He was attacked hours after he published a news report against the refinery supporter.
Amid the use of pressure tactics against the protesters opposing the state government’s ambitious ‘Green’ refinery project in the Barsu-Solgaon area in Ratnagiri district’s Rajapur taluka, a local journalist actively reporting the issue died on Tuesday after being run over by an influential refinery supporter in the area on Monday, hours after the journalist published a news report against the latter.
The villagers in the area and activists have alleged this incident to be a retaliation against journalist Shashikant Varishe, who worked for the local Marathi newspaper Dainik Mahanagari Times, by the accused Pandharinath Amberkar, for reporting against him. Protests are being conducted in front of the Rajapur police station, demanding that Amberkar be booked under section 302 (muder).
Amberkar is a land agent in the area with known associations to the local politicians and the public relations officer of the refinery project. “He has been a refinery supporter and has played an active role in most of the land dealings that have taken place in the area right from the beginning,” says Satyajit Chavan, an activist associated with the movement against the refinery.
On Monday, Varishe published a report in the local newspaper Dainik Mahanagari Times wherein he referred to Amberkar as an “accused in serious offences”. Amberkar has been booked by the police a few times in the past for intimidating and assaulting people opposing the Nanar refinery project initially and now the Barsu-Solgaon refinery project. He had recently put up banners in the Angnewadi village in the area, expressing support for the refinery. The banners carried his photographs along with those of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. Varishe questioned, in his report, how the government is associated with such a person accused of such serious offences.
Hours after the report was out in the Monday edition of Dainik Mahanagari Times, Aberkar, who was driving his vehicle Mahindra Thar, reportedly ran over Varishe, who was standing by his two-wheeler vehicle Activa near the Mangal Gas Agency Indian Oil Petrol Pump in Rajapur.
“Varishe was critically injured and was rushed to the hospital. From there, we even took him to Kolhapur for further treatment. But he could not be saved. He breathed his last this (Tuesday) morning,” Chavan said.
The Saudi Aramco-backed fossil fuel petrochemical refinery project planned in the Barsu-Solgaon area has been largely opposed by villagers who will be affected by this project for a long time. The region has seen several protests since the announcement of the project and the commencement of land sales for the same. Villagers have expressed fears that they will lose their traditional ways of livelihood to the project along with the environmental degradation of the Konkan coast region.
However, the governments, be it the Fadnavis-led BJP-Shiv Sena government, the Maha Vikas Aghadi Government or the latest Shinde-led government, have been adamant on bringing the project in the Konkan region itself, regardless of the people’s views. The project was earlier proposed in the Nanar area in the same district, from where it was moved after a large-scale people’s movement against it.
Varishe was known to be the only journalist working in the region for print, who was actively pursuing the new related to the refinery project and the people’s opposition that it faced.
“He was a sincere journalist. He gave voice to people’s demands through his reports. No other local print journalist pursued the issue like he did. That is exactly why he was targetted. Amberkar’s associations with those supporting the refinery are well known,” Chavan added.
Locals from Rajapur and its surroundings have gathered around the Rajapur police station since morning, demanding that Amberkar be charged with section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which is punishment for murder. While an FIR has already been registered against Amberkar and he has been arrested, he has been booked under section 308, which is an attempt to commit culpable homicide.
Oppression in Barsu-Solgaon
This is not the first time that those protesting against the Barsu-Solgaon Refinery Project and those associated with the protests have faced intimidation from the government.
As Varishe had reported, Amberkar was known for intimidating and assaulting villagers, officials, activists opposing the refinery in the past. FIRs have been lodged against him for a few incidents in this regard.
रत्नागिरी जिल्ह्यातील राजापूर तालुक्यात बारसु-सोलगाव पंचक्रोशीत सुरु असलेल्या रिफायनरी विरोधातील वातावरणात १२ नोव्हेंबर रोजी स्थानिक पोलीस, रॅपिड ऍक्शन फोर्सचे जवान, दंगल नियंत्रण पोलिसांनी गावांमध्ये रूट मार्च काढला.#refinery #Kokan #Maharashtra #SayNotoRefinery #ClimateChange pic.twitter.com/R9S7NE7csX— Indie Journal (@indiejmag) November 14, 2022
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 porsonnel and 29 Riot Control personnel were part of this march.
Villagers had alleged at the time that this was an attempt by the government to instil fear in the minds of the locals opposing the protest. The locals had thwarted the government’s attempt to conduct surveys for the refinery a few times before this incident.
Moreover, six activists who are involved in the protests against the refinery have been facing banishment from Ratnagiri and two neighbouring districts Sindhudurg and Raigad. “The hearings for the same are going on. We are trying our best to fight the notice,” Chavan said.
The Shinde-led state government has had several confrontations with environmental activists in the past. The local activists protesting against the proposed port in Vadhvan in Palghar district have also alleged facing section 144 almost all around the year, preventing people from coming together for protest. Similarly, those protesting against the Aarey Metro Carshed project, rejuvenated after the new government came to power in the state mid-2022, have been facing action and even banishment.
Governments across India are known to favour industrialists and people’s interests more over people’s rights and they usually turn a blind eye to such attacks on opposing activists. Activists fear that even in this case, the government will side with the attacker and not the victim.