BEHIND BAGHJAN BLOWOUT; Are vested interests trying to further their own interests?

Initially, the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) was not a part of Justice BP Katakey's (National Green Tribunal) team.
BEHIND BAGHJAN BLOWOUT; Are vested interests trying to further their own interests?



TINSUKIA: Initially, the Dehradun-based Wildlife Institute of India (WII) was not a part of Justice BP Katakey's (National Green Tribunal) team. In fact, the WII researchers were camping at Kaziranga when the Baghjan oil blowout took place. Though they started an independent fieldwork at Baghjan, this was reportedly objected to as their activities overlapped with those of other field workers engaged by the Additional PCCF (Principal Chief Conservator of Forest), MK Yadava. The Additional PCCF is at the helm of affairs in two committees — while one was constituted by the PCCF, the other single-member committee was constituted by the State Governor. The stalemate was resolved following the intervention of MoEF&CC ((Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change).

By then, the Oil India Limited (OIL) (as per its press release) engaged WII to carry out an assessment work in the Maguri-Motapung wetland. The WII team undertook the survey work from May 29 to June 4, 2020; and presented a preliminary report — much prior to the first sitting of the NGT (National Green Tribunal) — held on 24.6.2020.

Interestingly though when contacted, former scientist of WII and also a member of the NGT team — Dr BC Choudhury opposed the OIL's claim saying that WII was never party to OIL and no MoU was signed with OIL adding that it was a mere propaganda. He further said that the WII was assigned the job by MoEF&CC.

When asked about OIL claiming that the WII report was arbitrary, Dr Choudhury categorically stated that the methodology adopted by the WII team was of global standard. "The OIL should assess its own incompetency for failing to cap the blowout even after five months; rather than pointing fingers at others," remarked Dr Choudhury.

Though the WII submitted an exhaustive 147-page report to Justice BP Katakey which was presented to the NGT on 6.8.2020, yet surprisingly the WII report mentioned May 26 as the date of blowout instead of May 27 which was never rectified by WII. Though the experimentations were of global standard, as claimed by Dr Choudhury, question arises as to how far it would be acceptable in the eye of law. Eyeing for a footing in Baghjan on a long-term basis, it appears that the WII too is proceeding with a bigger plan for Baghjan, suspect many people.

A source pointed out that the Maguri-Motapung beel — perennially fed by the channels of the Dangori-Lohit River — is reportedly reclaiming on its own as new vegetation has started growing except on a small area where it was badly affected. As per the latest report, oil spill can be seen on either side of the road from the Gotong Bridge to the blast site — close to the feeding channels of Maguri-Motapung wetland in position (270 35/ 24.4/N 95020.12/37.5'E). These accumulated oil spills, in all likelihood, needed extra remedial measures else the alternative channel feeders to the wetland would get blocked, feel many people.

Though the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), Dibrugarh, carried out routine collection of data from the Baghjan blowout site and other affected areas, it allegedly did not share information, except randomly, with the Tinsukia district administration — though it was mandatory. When contacted, the Executive Engineer in-charge of the Dibrugarh SPCB regional office, Hiren Pegu, however contended that he did provide the data sheet regularly. But an official source said that the Dibrugarh SPCB had allegedly refrained from providing data when the blowout was in its peak during June-July except presenting a decibel (dB) data when the sound and the tremor almost disappeared following the diversion of gas flow to EPS on 13.9.2020. It recorded the data on 7.10.2020 showing the dB-level ranging from 44.7 to 98.3 in Baghjan and periphery areas. The PCB was always shady in dealing with the Baghjan issue as it has the dubious distinction of issuing a closure notice to OIL operation in Baghjan after the blowout and making U-turn the next day by withdrawing the closure notice.

Immediately after the blowout on May 27, the State Government instituted two inquiry committees, both headed by Additional PCCF MK Yadava: A 10-member committee on 2.6.2020 and a one-man committee on 12.6.2020. It has been learnt (and subsequently also reported then) that Yadava entrusted the Dibrugarh DFO to carry out a field assessment. But the DFO, in turn, engaged some incompetent researchers and field activists. Reportedly, the field reports have not been submitted as yet, except a hearing report amalgamated with Justice BP Katakey's report — though both the committees had separate entities.

These reports are very crucial for all purposes. The field investigations were carried out during the height of damage due to the blowout and fire. This correspondent attempted to contact MK Yadava for his comments but did not get any response despite a couple of attempts last Friday. (Concluded)

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