TINSUKIA: Environmentalists have expressed serious concern over the snail's pace of progress of the various fact-finding committees constituted to assess the quantum of damage following the Baghjan oil inferno. This is particularly so because ever since the constitution of the first 10-member PCCF committee, almost none visited the site as mandated by the government and the NGT (National Green Tribunal). Instead, experts on whom the responsibilities were vested, had allegedly engaged some local activists and field workers as substitutes without obtaining nod from the competent authorities.
This disturbing development has come at a time when environmental NGOs, activists and citizens of the State, including the Chief Minister of Assam, are keenly waiting for the outcome of the fact-finding committees — including that of the NGT.
The 10-member committee constituted by the PCCF (Principal Chief Conservator of Forests) on June 2 had five experts with MK Yadava, Additional PCCF (WL & CWLW) as its Chairman. However none of the experts visited Baghjan, except Dr Narayan Sharma of Cotton University who visited the site only once and engaged Rajib Rudra Tariang of the Zoology Department of Digboi College, a wildlife activist and not researcher, to carry out more field studies. Later, Dibrugarh DFO Pradipta Baruah Tariang was formally appointed as the leader of a team formed with a few other students, to collect field data.
Sources informed that he collected several kilograms of oil-coated fish carcasses from the oil-spilled Maguri Motapung Beel and reportedly preserved them in alcohol, which gave the impression that either he was ignorant about the preservation technique or acted at the behest of OIL to the extent that the water sample collected from the site was learnt to have been sent to OIL for analysis!
The one-man inquiry committee constituted by the Governor on June 12, 2020 was also headed by MK Yadava, Additional PCCF (WL & CWLW), who spent some days at the Circuit House, Tinsukia in June-end when he collected only public complaints and views even as the order mandated him to assess the damage in respect of wildlife and biodiversity.
Though the first report was supposed to be submitted by June 10 and the second report on June 27, it could not be ascertained whether these reports were submitted accordingly to the government.
Based on petitions of Bonani Kakkar and others, the NGT constituted an eight-member expert committee headed by Justice BP Kakatey, former Judge of Gauhati High Court, with clear ToR (Terms of Reference) having given the committee the liberty to co-opt as member or seek opinion and to present the report before July 29. Justice Kakatey was allegedly either misled or overruled by some circles. Of the eight members, except four: Dr Sarbeswar Kalita of Gauhati University; Abhay Kr Johari, former member Biodiversity Board; Dr Rakesh Kumar, Director CSIR; and Ajit Hazarika, former Chairman ONGCL; the other five are official designators, including the PCBA (Pollution Control Board of Assam). None of these members have so far visited the site.
Though Justice Kakatey planned to visit the site last week, he had to put off the visit on health ground. The surprising matter was that Dr Kalita deputed Pranjal Bezbaruah as his representative and also one Abani Dutta, a research associate of unknown status, to visit Baghjan and to submit the report. What made it more controversial was the involvement of PCBA — an organization that made an overnight U-turn after serving closure notice to OIL.
The complexity in the exercise was further compounded as the expert committee co-opted five experts — Dr BC Choudhury of WII Dehradun, Ritesh Kumar of WISA New Delhi, Dr Asad Rahmani of BNHS, Dr Ranjan Kr Das and Dr Ranjita Bania — both State researchers, based on the suggestions of Bonani Kakkar, a petitioner to NGT. While Dr Das and Dr Bania reportedly did not submit the reports yet for reasons not known, the others, however, complied as per the notification of PCBA.
Thus, environmentalists here are concerned over the multiplicity of investigation and final outcome of all the inquiry committees.
The principle of ecology amply suggests that the habitat can withstand natural disaster and can reclaim itself over a period of time, bouncing back to normalcy, which is likely to happen in the case of Maguri-Motapung beel. The damage assessment can be done locally with the available laboratory infrastructure with micro-planning and reclamation plan for which one need not have to bring wetland experts from outside, claimed a local college teacher.