Guwahati: Supreme Court questioned the National Green Tribunal’s decision to create a new committee led by Assam Chief Secretary to assess the impact of the Baghjan oil blowout close to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park on Monday.
Hearing a petition filed by the victims of the blowout, which displaced close to 11,000 people and reportedly decimated the habitat of several endangered animals, Justice K.M. Joseph issued notices to Assam Government as well as Oil India Limited on the issue of the final compensation paid to the affected village residents of Baghjan and Natun Rongagora village.
On Monday, Justice K.M. Joseph hearing an intervention application of Baghjan and Natun Rongagora village prima facie questioned NGT’s decision to appoint yet another committee to resolve the outstanding issues related to Baghjan blowout.
The village residents had challenged an earlier order of NGT under Section 22 of NGT Act, which allows petitioners to approach the Supreme Court if they are not satisfied with the court’s decision. In their appeal, the residents prayed that the NGT ‘erroneously proceeded on wrong assumption of facts and data and concluded the issue of final compensation to be awarded to the victims of Baghjan disaster’.
On January 23, Supreme Court of India remitted the case filed by Kolkata-based environmentalist Bonani Kakkar to the National Green Tribunal.
The residents of Baghjan and Natun Rongagara had also intervened in the matter seeking directions from the apex court on the issue of the final compensation.
Earlier, a bench comprising of Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud appointed a five-member committee led by former Gauhati High Judge, B.P. Katakey. On January 23, the Supreme Court bench remitted the cases to NGT.
The Court directed NGT to proceed hearing the cases on the basis of the findings and the reports of the Justice Katakey Committee.
The bench also ordered that the proceedings of the case in the NGT should not affect the disbursement of interim compensation to the affected villagers.
Supreme Court also ordered NGT to ensure that all interim compensation has to disbursed within two months since January 23.
On March 10, the principal bench of NGT led by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, however, constituted a new nine-member committee led by Assam’s Additional Chief Secretary, Pollution Control Board officials, the regional office of Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Assam Forest and wildlife officials and an expert from Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.
The committee was tasked with preparing a final action plan with the complete restoration of the impact area within one year.
The tribunal during March 10 hearing maintained that all the compensation issues were resolved as it held on to its earlier order of February 19, 2021 where it concluded that ‘a settlement had been reached’ after OIL deposited a sum of Rs 151 crores for rehabilitation of the victims.
Curiously, the Tribunal also rejected the proposal of livelihood restoration and socio-economic upliftment of the affected villages to which the Supreme Court appointed Katakey committee proposed an expenditure of Rs 625 crores.
In the March order, the Tribunal asked OIL to deposit Rs 200 crores for the restoration of the ‘accident site’ in Dibru Saikhowa Biosphere Reserve and Maguri Motapung Wetland, an international birding area which was impacted by the blowout.
The Supreme Court appointed committee had recommended Rs 1196 crores for the restoration of impacted habitat and livelihood settlement.
Meanwhile, the residents of Baghjan and Natun Rongagora have decided not appear before the NGT appointed nine-member committee which is likely to visit the blowout site and neighbouring areas on May 18.
“Since we have already approached the Supreme Court against the NGT order of March 10, we will not be appearing before the committee which has been appointed by the honourable tribunal. We had received a request by the Deputy Commissioner of Tinsukia district to appear before the committee on May 18,” Manoj Hazarika, an advisor of Milon Jyoti Juba Sangha, Baghjan told EastMojo.
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Hazarika also added that the compensation issues of the residents are far from being resolved. “Even with a lot of financial difficulties, we are pursuing the case in the Supreme Court. Residents of Baghjan, Natun Rongagora and other surrounding areas are now facing a health crisis since the blowout mainly because of the heavy pollution caused by oil rigs in these areas,” added Hazarika, who is one of the petitioners in the case.
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