Fire continues to rage at the Baghjan oil field site Credit: Rishu Kalantri

Tinsukia: The National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) principal bench in New Delhi, comprised of Justice SP Wangdi and Siddhanta Das (expert member), has directed public sector giant Oil India Limited (OIL) to deposit an initial amount of Rs 25 crore with the district magistrate of Tinsukia in Assam and abide by further orders of the Tribunal in original application case number 44 of 2020.

The development came while hearing a petition filed by Wildlife and Environment Conservation Organisation, a Tinsukia-based NGO, and comes 29 days after the gas well number 5 at Baghjan oil field of OIL, located adjacent to the famous Maguri-Motapung Beel and close to Dibru Saikhowa National Park, experienced a blowout, leaving a mixture of natural gas and condensate oil spill to hundred feet in the air and spread to an area beyond a km. The well caught fire on June 9.

Welcoming the order, Sant Rakshit Manu, advocate and legal advisor of the NGO, said, ”There is still a long way to go in this case, but we will leave no stone unturned and take this case to its logical and just end.”

“The court observing that a prima facie case has been made out against OIL to the extent of damage caused to the environment and bio diversity, damage to both human and wildlife, made the direction to deposit a sum of Rs 25 crore with the district magistrate of Tinsukia,” added Manu.

Also Read: Assam fire: PCB withdraws closure notice, sets deadline for OIL

Devastation of OIL fire continues

Manu said that the tribunal has constituted an eight-member committee of experts, with former judge of the Gauhati High Court Justice BP Katakey as the chairman, to look into the matter on the initial terms of reference.

“The committee shall submit its preliminary report to the registry by e-mail as expeditiously as possible not later than 30 days from hence,” he said.

In the order, the tribunal said, keeping in view the entire facts and circumstances set out in the applications and upon consideration of the documents filed therewith as well as the oral submission of the learned counsel for the applicants, we are of the view that in order to proceed further in the matter effectively, it would be expedient, in the meantime, to constitute a committee of experts to look into the matter on the initial terms of reference.

The committee shall visit and inspect the site and the area in question and examine on the aspects, including cause of gas and oil leak, extent of loss and damage caused to human life, wildlife, environment, damage and health hazard caused to the public, whether any contamination has been caused to water, air and soil of the area of the oil well and its vicinity, extent of contamination of water of the Dibru river due to the oil spill, impact on the eco sensitive zone of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and Maguri-Motapung Wetland, impact on agriculture, fishery and domestic animals

in the area, whether there were any mitigation measure put in place by OIL to offset the incidents such as the one in question, persons responsible for the fire incidents and the cause of failure to prevent the incident, assessment of compensation for the victims and cost of restitution of the damage caused to property and the environment, preventive and remedial measures and any other incidental or allied issues.

“While dealing with the above questions, the committee may also dwell on the action taken thus far either by the government or by the OIL or by any other agency and the expenditure incurred towards mitigation. Opportunity may also be provided to the OIL, respondent in the case, to give its views and submissions,” the order read.

The tribunal has asked the committee of experts to get the air quality monitored and samples of soil and ground water of the area as well as the water of river Dibru downstream of the oil spill tested.

Continuous efforts are on to douse the fire

Also Read: Assam: PCB issues closure notice to OIL on Baghjan oil field ops

The other members of the committee comprises member secretary of Central Pollution Control Board, a senior expert from Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), professor and head of the department of Environment Science, Gauhati University Dr Sarbeswar Kalita, former member biodiversity board Abhay Kumar Johari, IFS (retired), former chairman of ONGCL Ajit Hazarika, member secretary or senior scientist of Assam State Pollution Control Board and district magistrate of Tinsukia.

“We had prayed for compensation to the victims for the loss of health and livelihood and damages to their property due to the Baghjan-5 gas well blowout incident, which due to lethargic attitude of OIL and the government had only further worsened, resulting in flash fires and fumes and condensate engulfing a large area around the Baghjan well,” Dambaru Chutia, director of the NGO, said, adding: “We have also prayed for exemplary damages towards large scale destruction of ecology and bio diversity in an ecologically fragile region and towards restitution of environment around the gas well.”

When contacted, OIL spokesperson Tridiv Hazarika said, “We shall abide by the order of the NGT and deposit Rs 25 crore with the district magistrate of Tinsukia within the timeframe. We welcome the formation of the high-level committee as it will look into the environment impact, social impact and mitigation plan and also share their side of the story.”

The fire, meanwhile, continues to rage on its 30th day on Friday.

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