The committee was set up to investigate the cause and the impact of the Baghjan blowout

In a massive development in the Baghjan oilfield disaster, a committee by the National Green Tribunal found that the oilfield is operating without mandatory environmental clearances. This is also the case with 26 other oil wells in the State.

The principal bench of NGT, headed by AK Goel had constituted a committee led by BP Katakey, a former Judge, on June 26 to look into the cause and the impact of the Baghjan blowout. The oil well No 5 of OIL in Baghjan blew on May 2. On June 9, a massive fire followed, which gutted around 57 houses completely.

It’s been more than five months since the fire in Baghjan, and the blowout site is right next to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park (DSNP), Tinsukia. Additionally, this blowout continues to impact an area of 10 kilometres around the oil and gas rig.

The NGT committee came into existence after Kolkata-based activist Bonani Kakkar and Assam-based NGO Wildlife and Environment Conservation Organisation approached the Tribunal.

He submitted a status report on the ongoing investigation of the blowout on Tuesday which had some startling revelations. Based on reports, the committee has recommended a payment of Rs 25 lakh to 173 families and Rs 20 lakh to 439 families who were identified by the district administration.

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The report stated that the committee had found a woman who suffered a miscarriage while she was living nearby the gas field. The report further elaborated that there had been instances of miscarriage among cattle and the endangered Hoolock Gibbon in the neighbouring forests as well.

Katakey also made interim recommendations on the status report, suggesting legal actions against OIL for violating the Air, Water, and Environmental Protection Acts. The committee stated that on the day of the blowout of the well in Baghjan on May 27 and the subsequent explosion on June 9, OIL did not have the mandatory consents.

They further added that OIL did not have the consent to establish/no objection certificate/the consent to operate under the Water Act, Air Act or the Hazardous Waste [Management, Handling and Trans-boundary Movement] Rules of 2016.

Additionally, OIL had claimed that it had secured all environmental and industrial clearances needed to operate near the National Park area from the Baghjan oilfield, that consisted of 26 wells. However, according to the committee, OIL even violated the terms for which they had received clearances.

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On September 7, 2017, the Supreme Court permitted OIL to extract hydrocarbons from near the DSNP. They received conditional approval by the Apex Court, stating that it must carry out a biodiversity impact assessment before commencing the extraction of hydrocarbons. But, the committee found that OIL did not carry out any an assessment nor did they approach the SC for asking a final clearance for its extraction activities near the park.

The status report by the committee also claimed that OIL had violated the directives of the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB). As of March 2016, CPCB classified gas and oil extraction as red category industries and prohibited their operations in ecologically fragile areas. The government of Assam had also adopted the directions in 2019. Hence, the continuation of the extraction of hydrocarbons around the park will qualify as a Red category project, which is a clear violation of the Assam Government’s notification.

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The report also stated that neither OIL nor the Pollution Control Board of Assam has clarified before the committee about the inconsistency with the mandate given by the CPCB. The committee has also directed the Pollution Control Broad of Assam to take legal actions against OIL for violating the environmental and industry regulations.

The completed status report of the blowout and its impact is likely to be submitted by December 15.

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