Guwahati: The Supreme Court of India (SC) may directly monitor the restoration efforts and the issue of fixing responsibility on a blowout and fire that took place in an oil rig operated by Oil India Limited last year in Assam’s Baghjan. The Court has also stayed an earlier order by National Green Tribunal (NGT) constituting a six-member committee looking at the impact and the cause of the disaster in which OIL’s Managing Director was made a member.
Admitting a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Kolkata-based environmentalist, Bonani Kakkar, a bench comprising of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah, issued notices to Oil India Limited, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas and Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change on Thursday.
On April 21, Kakkar, the environmentalist, dissatisfied with NGT, which was hearing the case against OIL in the Baghjan blowout case, approached the apex court citing gross errors in the NGT judgement of February 19, 2021. Kakkar petitioned before the court challenging NGT’s decision to appoint OIL’s Managing Director as a part of a six member committee looking at the cause and impact of the blowout while OIL is an accused in the case, as demonstrated by NGT’s committee led by Justice (Retd) B.P. Katakey and by NGT’s own observations – that OIL was responsible for the disaster at Baghjan.
The Katakey committee listed the violations of several environmental as well as industrial laws while setting up Baghjan oil and gas field in Tinsukia district of Assam and found that the entire gas field as illegal. While Katakey sought till March 31 to submit a final report, the NGT panel led by Justice A.K. Goel asked Katakey to submit his findings to three new committees with OIL as one of its members. The petitioners also demanded a comprehensive impact assessment of the blowout on the oil rig operated by OIL.
On Thursday, SC judges expressed shock over the way NGT handled the Baghjan case. According to a report by Press Trust of India, the top court said OIL was accused of polluting the wetlands, but its MD was made a member of the Inquiry committee.
“We are wholly disappointed by the manner in which the NGT has pushed this issue out of its hand. It’s the National Green Tribunal. It should not have done this,” said the Justices.
Supreme Court has notified OIL, the MoPNG and MoEFCC to submit a response within three weeks when the next hearing would take place. The apex court further indicated that it might monitor the investigation and restoration efforts in Baghjan in which two firefighters, an engineer, several endangered wildlife species, fishes and birds lost their habitat after fire caused by the blowout.
The petitioners also cited the report of Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam, Dr. M.K. Yadava’s report on the disaster which was recently made public by Yadava himself. Following the disaster, Assam Government appointed Yadava to investigate the impact of the blowout on the fragile ecosystem of Dibru Saikhowa National Park in the vicinity of Baghjan oil and gas field. Yadava had estimated more than Rs 25,000 crores of losses to ecological and human habitat following the oil fire, whose impacts would continue for more than a decade.
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