In a tragic incident, journalist Shashikant Warishe was killed after being run down and crushed by a vehicle purportedly driven by Pandharinath Amberkar, a local land-dealer and accused in multiple land grab cases in the disputed Barsu refinery in Maharashtra’s western Konkan district.
Warishe, who is survived by his mother, wife, and 19-year-old son, worked for a local Marathi daily and had been covering issues relating to the establishment of Ratnagiri Refinery & Petrochemicals Ltd (RRPCL) near Barsu, which has been met with opposition from some locals. Shashikant Warishe, known for his many revealing articles on the pro-farmer campaign and the proposed refinery centre, was murdered just a few hours after a report in the Marathi newspaper Mahanagari Times revealed Amberkar’s connections with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Around 1 p.m., the alleged perpetrator Amberkar, who was driving a black Thar vehicle, spotted journalist Warise on his two-wheeler near a petrol pump on the Rajapur Highway. He allegedly drove off the road and smashed his car into an unsuspecting Warishe. People went to the scene and rescued Warishe post the calculated accident. In a comatose and serious condition, he was transferred to Ratnagiri, and then to Kolhapur. He did not regain consciousness and died at 7 a.m. on February 7, 2023, according to the Free Speech Collective.
The People’s Union of Civil Liberties of Maharashtra issued a statement condemning the killing of journalist Warishe. According to a statement issued by the Maha PUCL, as reported by the Mid-day, the killing of the journalist is intended to silence and frighten all those who dare to speak out, as well as to expose the intimidation and land-grab that has been going on in the pretext of acquiring land for the project. The PUCL also urged that the Police undertake a prompt and impartial inquiry into the death of Shashikant Warishe, prosecute the accused Pandharinath Amberkar and any others found to be engaged in the murder, and punish the offenders severely, reported in the Mid-day.
In a press release, the Refinery Virodhi Sanghtana has also condemned the killing of the journalist. Dhananjay Kulkarni, the Superintendent of Police of Ratnagiri, told the Indian Express that they have arrested the accused immediately after the incident and produced to the court, which remanded him to police custody till February 14.
About the project
The previous MVA government had shelved the said megaproject when local people and environmental groups had initiated a protest against its development. The project from Nanar in Ratnagiri district was abandoned when the Shiv Sena supported their demands. The refinery had planned to occupy 14,000 acres of land in 14 villages in Ratnagiri and 1,000 acres in two villages in the neighboring Sindhudurg district. The project was then proposed in Barsu-Salgaon, 20 kilometers from Nanar, with a land acquisition of 6,200 acres and an additional 2,144 acres for a crude oil terminal.
Warishe worked for the Mahanagari Times and was a vocal opponent of Rajapur’s polluting megaprojects. On Monday, February 6, 2023, he released the report and mentioned the cases filed against Amberkar. Amberkar’s portrait was prominently shown in banners with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, and Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announcing the refinery and captioned “the dream will come true,” according to news report.
The ongoing fight against the Project
Local environmental groups have been opposing the refinery because they worry it will pollute the ecosystem and damage the region, which is dependent on agriculture and famous for its Alphonso mango. They claim Amberkar is linked to Maharashtra Industry Minister Uday Samant.
According to the PUCL Maharashtra, as reported by the Mid-day, there have been severe violations of civil liberties with the ongoing agitation of people over the location of the Ratnagiri Refinery and Petrochemical Ltd in the eco-sensitive zone in Rajapur taluka of Ratnagiri district. Local villagers have continued to speak out against environmental degradation and have expressed major concerns about contamination from the mega-refinery.
The PUCL further stated that multiple FIRs have been filed against residents who have peacefully protested the project. Externment notices have been issued to members of the Refinery Virodhi Sanghatana, but no action has been done against the company’s goons. Locals are not even allowed to hold peaceful meetings due to growing repression in the area. The Gram Panchayats in the area have passed many resolutions denouncing the authorities’ harshness, but to no avail.