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NEW DELHI: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Thursday imposed an interim penalty of Rs 25 crores on Oil India Ltd (OIL) for causing damage to enviornment, biodiversity and public health due to gas well blowout and consequent fire at Baghjan in Tinsukia district of Assam. It also constituted an eight-member committee to conduct detailed probe into the incident.
The order was issued in response to a petition of environmentalist Bonani Kakkar, founder president of the People United for Better Living in Calcutta (PUBLIC) - an NGO - filed before the Eastern Bench of NGT in Kolkata, concerning OIL’s failure to prevent/stop the blowout and resultant fire.
“In view of the prima facie case made out against OIL on the extent of damage caused to the environment and biodiversity, damage to both human and wildlife, public health and, having regard to the financial worth of the Company and the extent of damage, we direct the OIL to deposit an initial amount of Rs 25 crores with the district magistrate, Tinsukia, Assam and shall abide by further orders of the Tribunal,” said the bench, comprised of Justice SP Wangdi and Siddhanta Das, in its order.
The Committee, chaired by former judge of Gauhati High Court Justice B P Katakey, is asked to submit a preliminary report to the Tribunal within 30 days.
On May 27, the gas well, located within a kilometer from the Maguri-Motapung wetlands and Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, started leaking gas, and it continued uncontrolled for 12 days before breaking out into a raging inferno on June 9.
The Wild Life and Environment Conservation Organisation is another petitioner in the matter. The petitioners informed the Tribunal that the blowout and consequent fire caused irreparable damage to the fragile ecology of landscape which includes wetlands, swamps, grasslands and forests.
“In our view, the task of determining the damage and the restorative steps needed is huge. I hope the Committee draws on the best expertise available domestically and internationally to plan and implement remediation of the fragile ecosystem. We can’t bring back the burnt gangetic dolphin and the poor tented turtles but at least we can look for their future generations to have a better chance,” said the petitioner, Bonani Kakkar.
Siddharth Mitra, senior counsel representing the petitioner, stated that the Tribunal’s order reflects the seriousness of the damage and a desire for appropriate remedial action.
The Committee will visit and inspect the site and and examine cause of gas and oil leak; extent of loss and damage caused to human life, wildlife, environment; 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 and impact on agriculture, fishery and domestic animals in the area during its probe.
It will also examine whether there were any mitigation measure put in place by OIL to offset the incidents such as the one happened at Baghjan.
Persons responsible for the fire incidents and the cause of failure to prevent the incident will also be probed by the Committee.
“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 respondent OIL to give its views and submissions,” said the NGT.