Tinsukia: It was billed as the first-ever public hearing for an oil block to be exploited by a private firm in Assam. However, a draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) report, which was to be presented by the company officials before residents of Kordoiguri next to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park, brought back memories of the Baghjan oil disaster. The errors in the EIA report also did little to help.

Agitated over the misleading and false information on a draft of the EIA report for a small oil field auctioned to a private company, residents of Kordoiguri and surrounding villages boycotted a public hearing organised by the Pollution Control Board of Assam (PCBA) earlier on Tuesday.

The draft EIA shows that a Chennai-based company also planned to divert a small portion of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. Locals, however, accused the company and their EIA consultants, including the PCBA, of organising the public consultation without the knowledge of the locals.

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In 2019, a Chennai-based private company, Invenwire Energy Private Limited (IEPL), won the Disaijan oil block during the second round of bidding for Discovered Small Fields (DSF). Discovered Small Fields (DSF) was introduced under the revenue sharing contract by the Government of India in 2016 to attract more private oil and gas companies to develop the discovered fields economically and enhance oil and gas production.

According to the Director-General of Hydrocarbons, the DSF are those oil fields that have not been exploited for oil and gas drilling but were discovered more than 40 years ago. Earlier, it was not commercially viable for companies to exploit such wells. Assam has 12 DSFs out of 67 in the country, which can potentially produce up to 21 million metric tonnes of oil and gas.

The Assam government granted the petroleum mining lease over 21 square kilometres next to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park to IEPL in January 2020. The IEPL has estimated the project cost for the Disaijan block at Rs 72 crores, with an estimated crude oil potential of 0.98 million metric tonnes. The project is classified under ‘Category A’, which will require the company to organise public consultation, following which it will be able to secure the environmental and forest clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change

FLAWED ASSESSMENT

Local organisations representing the people of Kordoibari and surrounding villages, such as Assam Moran Sabha and Milanjyoti Yuva Sangha of Baghjan, called for a boycott in the presence of the PCBA officials at the start of the public hearing meeting.

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According to the President of the central working committee, Bitopan Moran, the draft EIA by IEPL’s consultant, based on which it sought public consultation, was misleading and flawed.

“First, they got the name of the area wrong. There is no Disaijan. There is the Disajan tea estate. We call this entire region Kordoiguri under the Doomdooma circle of the Tinsukia district. The EIA draft has named more than 25 villages from where they collected baseline data for air quality measurement and other baseline factors. Shockingly, these villages, some revenue and some non-cadastral, do not exist. They were washed away by floods after 1990. The EIA draft also claims that we have hospitals, high secondary schools and good roads. The region is barely connected by good roads while there are no good hospitals or high secondary schools here,” Moran told EastMojo while moving the motion to boycott the meeting in front of the Additional Deputy Commissioner of Tinsukia Dipu Deka, the assistant commissioner, circle officers, PCBA and IEPL staff. 

Later, Moran told Eastmojo the EIA draft proposes to resolve the land acquisition issues from its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds. “This is a violation of the land acquisition law and Schedule 7 of Companies Act that has defined the broad categories under which CSR funds are to be spent. In this instance, the land acquired for oil drilling cannot be compensated with CSR funds,” Moran added.

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The EIA draft states that anyone affected by the proposed land procurement will be identified and compensated through adequate compensation and other livelihood restoration activities directly or indirectly through CSR activities.

RECENT WOUNDS

For residents of Baghjan, the proposed drilling is a big blow to the movement against oil extraction in the region.

“There is no mechanism in place in the existing EIA to mitigate the impact of a Baghjan-like disaster for Kordoiguri residents. When the blowout followed by the fire took place in May and June 2020, the fires raged for six months, families took shelter in this very school where the public hearing is taking place. We went through the draft EIA, it does not even mention the Baghjan site as a critically polluted area,” Anyajit Hazarika, president, Milanjyoti Yuva Sangha of Baghjan, a local organisation at the forefront of the struggle for compensation of people impacted by the Baghjan disaster, told EastMojo.  

Panchayat President of Kordoiguri, Jeuti Moran, while pushing for the boycott of the public hearing, said she was not even informed about the meeting. “The company claims that they made announcements and informed people. I did not know about this hearing until today. I am a part of the local self-government, but the PCBA or the Tinsukia district administration did not inform me,” she told EastMojo.

The draft EIA also mentioned that a portion of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park will be diverted for drilling. “The Dibru-Saikhowa National Park (partly) is falling within the block boundary towards the North Western side. Only 0.84% of the block area is part of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park,” the EIA draft states.

Curiously, as per EIA rules of 2006, where the company is required to mention if there is approval needed under the Forest Conservation Act (1980) to divert forest land to the drilling activity, IEPL’s EIA consultant stated that such approval was not applicable.

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“The people of Kordoiguri and Baghjan depend on the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and its surroundings for their livelihood earned from tourism and fishing activities. Diverting a portion of the national park for drilling is not just a threat to the biodiversity but also the livelihoods of people depending on the park,” said Papul Gogoi, Secretary of Milanjyoti Yuva Sangha.

With local organisations calling for a boycott of the public hearing meeting, the Tinsukia district administration postponed the hearing. 

Dipu Deka, Assistant Deputy Commissioner, said the meeting had to be cancelled due to errors in the draft EIA, based on which the public consultation was organised.

“We will issue a fresh notification on the public hearing after the company carries out the corrections as pointed out by the local residents,” Deka told EastMojo. Later, the Tinsukia district administration, in a meeting with Kordoibari village youth, organisations and company officials, formed a committee to rectify the errors and organise a fresh public consultation.  

IEPL company officials, who did not wish to speak on record, told EastMojo that the draft EIA was based on the guidelines of the EIA and information received from the government regarding the said oil block. According to a company statement, “We are here to invest in the state, contribute to the growth and development in the area. We want to help in three Es: Education, employment and empowerment.”  

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