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Behind Baghjan Blowout Report; Are vested parties trying to further their own interests?

As the much-awaited hearing date in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on the Baghjan issue is getting closer (November 3)

Baghjan Blowout

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  21 Oct 2020 3:56 AM GMT

PART-I

OUR CORRESPONDENT

TINSUKIA: As the much-awaited hearing date in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on the Baghjan issue is getting closer (November 3), some facts that have surfaced have led to the belief that the few organisations engaged by the NGT/ Justice BP Katakey Committee are now vying purportedly to facilitate their own interest rather than solving the core issues of Baghjan. This is despite the ground report that says that the Maguri-Matapung wetland — the eye of interest — is gradually regenerating naturally of its own after two successive floods except at certain portions (270 35/ 24.4/N 95020.12/ 37.5/E). Elsewhere, oil spill still persists. Ecologists and environmentalists opined that the Government agencies must thoroughly examine the case studies before granting proposals. In course of these write-ups, this correspondent interacted with a few stakeholders for their opinions.

When Baghjan was in turmoil following the blowout and tremors and people of Nutangaon and nearby areas fleeing from their homes, the Tinsukia district administration was appraised of CSIR-NEIST on its expertise on seismology. The Government Assam approached CSIR-NEIST Jorhat to bailout from the crisis with assurance to procure funds from the OIL! Thus, NEIST undertook the assignment with the full funding and sponsorship of OIL at the cost of the Baghjan-Nutangaon-affected people. It carried out the field study from 18.6.2020 to 21.7.2020 to investigate seismic activities which covered only a radial distance of 4.5 km.

In its 127 pages report titled 'Seismological & Geophysical Investigation at Baghjan oil Blowout Site and its Vicinity' submitted to OIL on 21.8.2020, the NEIST termed the events at Baghjan almost 'insignificant' stating, "Most of the local and regional areas also reported by global seismic network, except a few local events which occurred in Indo-Burma border region including Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam. We have also observed a number of very local micro-earthquakes occurring in Baghjan area". Such tremors were attributed to "global phenomena in oil producing reservoirs being induced by disturbance of hydrostatic balance during production activities. They are so small that they are not usually felt".

The report stated that the frequency content of the noise and PPV (Peak Particle Velocity) were within the limit of human perception and below the threshold value that may not cause damage to normal residential houses. Though there were reports of extensive damage to dwelling houses in and around Erasuti village, the other side of Dibru River and close to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and much within the 4.5 km radial distance, the NEIST team purportedly avoided the area. Besides, one instrument that was damaged near the Gotong Bridge was later lifted and left abandoned there for days together. The residents of Nutangaon witnessed the unprecedented tremor. These findings of NEIST while doubting authenticity raised eyebrows as, in reality, many dwelling houses were severely damaged with shattering of window panes etc and several thousands of people had to flee their homes due to the deafening sounds and intermittent explosions even as the sounds though in low magnitude can be heard from a distance 5 km from the blazing well on these days. The report, which was copyrighted by the CSIR-NEIST, raised questionable remarks from the scientific community as to how a research project on public issues other than IPR (Intellectual Property Right) could be copyrighted. Dr Saurav Baruah Chief Scientist NEIST-Jorhat, when contacted for his views, he said, "It is CSIR mandate and cannot be put into public domain."

On the Baghjan issue, copies of the report were sent to OIL (funding agency) and the Government of Assam (facilitator), he said, adding that these bodies can release the report in the public domain. Dr Baruah, however, avoided some queries and seemed not well acquainted with copyright laws.

The concluding remark of the report 'scope to investigate' was indicative enough to suggest NEIST's plan to exploit Baghjan in bigger scale in the future. Armed with these alleged falsified data, the NEIST-Jorhat intriguingly submitted a project proposal amounting to nearly Rs 95 lakhs to MoEF&CC (Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change) adding that a substantial amount was earmarked as 'Consultation Fee' for in-house scientists, a highly-placed source informed and persuasion is on to influence while riding on the shoulders of other forum.

Question has been raised as to whether the scientists of CSIR working within same organisation can claim themselves as consultants when otherwise paid unlike other organisations under various Ministries like the DST, ICAR, DRDO etc. The CSIR does engage consultants for technical and business development support as per the CSIR guidelines of 2017 & 2019; but engaging own scientists as consultants was quite unusual, viewed Prof. RNS Yadav of Dibrugarh University who had handled mega projects of DBT (Department of Biotechnology).

(To be concluded)

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