Fall out of oil exploration: Thousand bucks for cracked walls

Guwahati/Tinsukia: Dilang Moran, 75, was shocked when she received Rs 1,000 after the walls of her modest home in Dighalipothar village, situated near Margherita under Bordumsa Police Station, cracked. Moran claimed that on December 20, workers accompanied by unknown officials came to her village with sophisticated equipment and started planting bombs in a neighbouring agricultural field. 

“I heard loud explosions. Later, I saw cracks appearing on the walls of my house. I don’t have anybody in the house to argue with these people. When the villagers caught hold of the men who blasted the earth, they handed me Rs 1,000 as compensation for the damage,” the septuagenarian told Eastmojo. The explosions also damaged Moran’s neighbour and senior citizen Kanduli Moran’s house. 

 Fall out of oil exploration: Thousand bucks for cracked walls

High impact low intensity 

According to the locals, starting December 20, and all of January, more than 200 households from 12 villages reported damages to their dwelling after an Andhra-based private contractor Devi Engineering started conducting seismic surveys for Oil India Limited to locate oil and gas reserves. The residents belong to Talpothar, Na Amguri, Dighalipothar, Wathoi, Na Kathalguri, Modarkhat, Nam Hollong, 2 No. Betoni, Litong, Xuwanipothar, Kailashpur, and Bor Hollong villages fall under Margherita and Doomdooma circle of Tinsukia district.

In a typical seismic survey, an array of low impact explosives are deployed, which, upon explosion, give the location of the geological structures underneath the earth’s surface. According to the guidelines published on September 30, 2019, by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, the process of exploration drilling for hydrocarbon in 130 m x130 m area causes total damage to vegetation (both flora and fauna elements) in the area and cannot be considered as temporary vegetation change.

 Fall out of oil exploration: Thousand bucks for cracked walls

The ground situation was, however, different. The teaching staff of a government primary school in Na Amguri also reported damage to the school’s walls. “Our school had just reopened after a long time on December 20 following the COVID-19 pandemic when the explosions started in the area. Not just the school, our kitchen that serves mid-day meals also had cracks on the walls,” a teacher told EastMojo.

Curiously, not many households wanted to approach the authorities initially when the cracks appeared while the seismic survey was underway. “When the contractor conducting the seismic survey realised that several houses had been damaged, they circulated a form and told us to fill it up. We were told that our compensation would be processed immediately, so there was no need to approach the authorities with our complaint,” said Jitul Dihingia, whose newly-built Assam-type house developed cracks on the walls. 

Hand in glove

Dibakar Neog, a resident of Talpathar, faced damages in his recently constructed six-room house. “Seismic surveys are not new in this area. But it seems these surveys were conducted illegally. We learnt from our friends who work in this industry, they are supposed to place the explosives at least 60 feet below the ground, but in this case, they just dug 15 feet and detonated the explosives, which explains why the explosions caused so much damage,” Neog told Eastmojo. With explosions happening 100 metres away from his dwelling, an angry Neog went to the Bordumsa Police Station to register a case. “The police officials told me that the contractor was already processing our compensation. Registering a case would only delay the process,” Neog added, saying that no compensation was processed. Neog claimed Rs 50,000 as compensation for the damages to his dwelling.  

The explosions were heard throughout January. Neog and others learnt that the seismic survey was sub-contracted to the Leader of Opposition from Congress, Debabrata Saikia’s brother, Ashok Saikia. “We learnt that Saikia had managed to get some support from some local organisations, which is why no organisation stood in our support,” he added. 

Ashok Saikia, the sub-contractor, could not be reached for comments. 

When EastMojo reached out to Gangadhar J.V., the managing director of Devi Engineering conducting the seismic survey, he said he was aware of some minor damages in the survey area. “Seismic surveys do produce vibrations, but if there is any compensation that is to be paid, we pay for crop damage,” Gangadhar said. The company official further added that Rs 1000 was far too less for the damage. “Seismic vibrations are not supposed to cause damage to the buildings. However, we would not comment on the construction quality of these dwellings for now. We will enquire and take appropriate measures,” Gangadhar added.

Blocked potential

Curiously, the Assam Forest Department, which extended the seismic survey period for OIL to January 31, 2022, for conducting surveys in the forest areas surrounding the region, was unaware of the damages caused by the ongoing explosions. According to Doomdooma Divisional Forest Officer, R.S. Bharti, they did not receive any report about damages in the area. Neog and several other residents, however, contest this. They say they made several attempts to reach out to the authorities. “No district administration official or forest official was present to ensure that guidelines were followed by surveyors,” Neog added.

The affected villages are a part of a larger exploration block awarded to OIL under the Open Acreage Licensing Policy (OALP) of the Government of India on September 12, 2018. The exploration block covers an area of 489 sq. km. of Tinsukia district in Assam and Namsai district of Arunachal Pradesh of which most of the area is in Assam. According to the Pre-Feasibility Report prepared by OIL submitted to the MoEFCC, the block covers six Reserve Forests, namely Kakojan R.F (7.81 Sq Km), Philobari R.F. (2.92 Sq Km), Nalani R.F. (0.47 Sq Km), Tarani R.F. (2.65 Sq Km), Doomdooma R.F (21.95 sq km) and Hakathi R.F. (0.49 Sq Km) in Doom Dooma Forest Division within Tinsukia District. A portion of the Eco-sensitive Zone of Dibru Saikhowa National Park also falls within the north-western side of the block. On the other hand, major settlements such as Doomdooma Town, Phillobari, Daisa Gaon, Talap, Dangari, Tenga gaon, Saikhoa gaon, Rupai also fall inside this exploratory block.

 Fall out of oil exploration: Thousand bucks for cracked walls

Aimed to boost the hydrocarbon production of the country, the Government of India, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi assumed power, introduced OALP under the liberalised Hydrocarbon Exploration and Licensing Policy (HELP). Union government considers OALP to be attractive and liberal due to reduced royalty rates, zero oil cess, marketing and pricing freedom, round the year bidding, freedom to investors for carving out blocks of their interest, a single license to cover both conventional and unconventional hydrocarbon resources, exploration permission during the entire contract period, and an easy, transparent and swift bidding and awarding process. The exploration block in question was awarded in the first round of bidding to OIL in 2018. According to a PIB release, both private and public sector companies committed investment of about Rs 6000 crore for exploration under the first round of bidding itself. This includes 55 on-shore, and offshore blocks spread 59,282 square kilometres of the exploration area.

Arunachal Pradesh extends COVID-19 restrictions till Feb 14

Trending Stories

Latest Stories

Leave a comment

Leave a comment