Baghjan: In a serious turn of events, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) appointed committee said that the Baghjan oilfield, along with the other 26 oil wells in Assam was operating without mandatory environmental clearances. The Baghjan oil well No 5 of OIL blew out on May 27, followed by massive fire on June 9.
It has been 160 days since the Baghjan blaze. The blowout site is located next to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park (DSNP) in the Tinsukia district. The blowout continues to impact an area of 10 kilometers around the Baghjan 5 oil and gas rig.
After the Kolkata-based activists, Bonani Kakkar and an Assam-based non-profit organisation, Wildlife and Environment Conservation Organisation approached NGT, a committee was constituted led by former Judge BP Katakey to investigate the cause and the impact of the blowout.
Judge Katakey submitted a status report on the ongoing investigation of the blowout on November 3. The committee has recommended payment of Rs 25 Lakh to 173 families and Rs 20 lakh to 439 families identified by the district administration. Around 57 houses were completely gutted in the fire of June 9.
The committee also found that a pregnant woman living nearby the gas field had suffered a miscarriage, along with instances of miscarriage among cattle.
In the report submitted to NGT, Katakey made interim recommendations for legal action against Oil India Ltd (OIL) for violating the Air, Water, and Environmental Protection Acts.
The committee said, "On the day of the blowout of well Baghjan-5 May 27 and explosion June 9, OIL did not have the mandatory consents including the Consent To Establish / No Objection Certificate and / or the Consent To Operate under the Water Act, Air Act and / or the Hazardous Waste [Management, Handling and Transboundary Movement] Rules, 2016."
OIL has earlier claimed that it had secured all the necessary environment and industrial clearances to operate near DSNP from the Baghjan oilfield consisting of 26 oil wells. However, the committee found OIL violating terms in which such clearance had been granted to it.
While delivering the verdict of the TN Godavaram case, the Supreme Court permitted OIL to extract hydrocarbons from near the DSNP on September 7, 2017.
OIL was granted conditional approval by the Apex court, stating that it should carry out a biodiversity impact assessment before commencing the extraction of hydrocarbons.
However, it was found out by the committee that OIL did not carry out any such assessment nor did it approach the apex court, asking for a final clearance for its extraction activities near the DSNP.
The committee led by Judge Katakey also claimed that OILhad violated the directives of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). In March 2016, CBCB classified on-shore and off-shore oil and gas extraction including coal bed methane red category industries, and prohibited their operations in ecologically fragile areas / protected areas. The government of Assam adopted these directions in 2019. The continuation of the extraction of hydrocarbons around the DSNP by OIL would qualify it as a clear violation of the above-mentioned direction.
The committee has directed the Pollution Control Board of Assam to take legal actions against OIL violating environmental as well as industry regulations.
The final report of the status of the blowout is likely to be submitted by December 15 by the committee. People and families affected by the blowout continue to protest demanding compensation for the loss, as well as to take legal action against OIL.