"Eyes Still Burning": Assam Villagers Live In Fear As Well Fire Continues

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 Assam Villagers Live In Fear As Well Fire Continues

Conditions at the relief camp, the displaced villagers say, is simply inadequate.


First a gas leak, then an inferno so massive that it can be seen from a distance of more than 30 km and now the tremors shaking the earth - Loknath Bora has not seen a disaster of this scale in 70 years of his life.

His village Natungaon, about 2 km from the Baghjan oilfield, has been so badly hit by tremors that people are running away fearing a major earthquake is on its way.

"We first saw oil condensate deposit in the area after gas leak, we had lot of breathing problem now we are feeling tremors, sound is huge. I am a heart patient, I am disturbed," Bora told NDTV.

His son Rajib said that the villagers were so terrified that they fled the village overnight. "People got terrified and we moved them to relief camps overnight," Rajib added.

The gas leak, the oil spill and the fire destroyed standing crops, vegetation and large swathes of tea gardens.

The blaze at the well is so massive that it can be seen from a distance of more than 30 km with thick black smoke going up several metres high, endangering local biodiversity at the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park following the blowout on May 27.

The company and the Tinsukia district administration said they have evacuated around 7,000 people from nearby areas of the gas well site at Baghjan to 12 relief camps.

But conditions at the camp, the displaced villagers say, is simply inadequate.

"We are getting rice but food for the children is not being provided on time. I need to return to work since with every pasing day my salary will be cut," Sabita told NDTV while she awaited for food and water in one of the relief camp set up by Oil India limited with district administartion's help.

The camp, has sheltered over three hundred tea garden workers from the Dighaltarang tea estate adjacent to the well no.5 of Baghjan. 

" We are planning to go back whatever the case maybe since oil india would not pay us for the salary. The garden management wants us to come and work as this is pick season in the garden. We are already hit by the lockdown," another tea garden worker Gopal added.

Fear and anxiety was visible among each of the villagers in each of the relief camps that NDTV visited.

" We have been living under fear and trauma for close to two weeks. For a fortnight gas was leaking. The smell of hydrocarbon was so intense that we started have breathing problem. Oil condensate deposited all around. Our eyes are burning even now. The fire has destroyed half of our village and now we feel completely unsafe since the earth is shaking," explained Sanjib Moran of Baghjan village.

The Assam government has ordered a probe and Oil India is engaging more foreign experts to extinguish the fire and cap the gas leak.

"The probe will also look into the allegation of negligence on the part of some officials of the company and its private well operator. It will find out who is responsible for this tragedy," a senior official at the Chief Minister's Office (CMO) told news agency Press Trust of India.

The inquiry will try to find out how the entire tragedy unfolded and what measures should be taken so that such incidents never occur in the future, the CMO official said.

A PIL was filed at the Gauhati High Court on Wednesday against OIL, John Energy, the Centre and the state for the PSU major''s Baghjan gas well blowout and successive fire, which have damaged life and properties in the area.

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