The price of profit, OIL’s misadventure threatens Tinsukhia’s reserve forests & wild life sanctuaries: Assam

Taking unscrupulous advantage of the opacity caused by the Covid 19 lockdown, the environmental clearance to OIL’s drilling in Assam severely endangered human and natural life: an Independent Inquiry is the need of the hour, writes Dr Gohain


It has not escaped the notice of conscious and concerned citizens that under the banner of ‘war on Covid 19’ some most deplorable decisions imperilling lives and livelihoods of the people have been taken.This flurry of decisions and measures taken to control the pandemic, have been used to conceal from public scrutiny, the unwise and enormously damaging acts by public authorities in positions of responsibility.

It is no longer under wraps that the National Board of Wild Life seized the opacity of the Lockdown 1 period to rush through a series of environmental clearances of certain questionable projects.One such clearance related to drilling for petroleum by OIL in a region of Tinisukia district of Eastern Assam, a region dotted with reserve forests,wild life sanctuaries,protected water bodies and other eco-sensitive areas.Indeed the entire region had been formally declared to be a ‘tropical rainforest’ ruling out mining and similar bio-hazardous activities.But the present government’s bias towards unregulated exploitation of nature,especially if it is expected to produce “wealth”has long begrudged such environmental restraints.Hence the PSU,OIL was allowed to carry out oil prospecting in this sensitive region. There is strong presumption that necessary precautions accompanying such oil prospecting had been waived aside or most slackly applied.That includes preventive measures customarily put in place to forestall a blowout of oil and gas that remain under high pressure in the depths of the earth.

The result has been a tremendous disaster.Since May 27, 2020 – 13 days ago– when a sound like a shattering thunderclap awoke the villagers of Baghjan village near the Dihing-Patkai  wild life sanctuary where OIL had started oil prospecting.At daybreak villagers saw, with alarm, a huge and continuous stream of gas and oil erupting from the drilling site and soon their homes,fields were covered with a film of some sticky substance. Their household animals seemed to behave strangely and were choking. There was a strong smell of carbon in the air and they hurriedly left their homes and belongings to take shelter at a school building at some distance. Officials of OIL turned up after a few days and assured them that the disaster would be brought under control.

Two foreign experts,one from Canada and the other one from Australia,

were brought in from a Singapore-based company.But in spite of repeated reassurances by officials, the column of oil and gas has shown no sign of tapering off 13 days after it had emerged. Worse,today it has caught fire and is threatening to put vast forests and surrounding human habitations on fire.Dread and despair are writ large on faces of hapless villagers. The damage to forests and wild life is incalculable.

Since the clearance was hurried through without proper scrutiny of reports by expert bodies,and OIL was in haste to carry the prospecting out while the public was busy facing out Covid 19,the entire exercise had been a serious misadventure driven by thoughtless greed. Such are the results of the liberal turn in our economic thinking.Putting a cap on the eruption and controlling the fire are not the only concerns.There must be a thorough independent enquiry into causes of the mishap and just assignment of responsibility.And of course both OIL and GOI must bear the expense of rehabilitation and reparation.A few years back, British Petroleum had been fined £25 billion and the costs of environmental   restoration by the Obama administration in the United States when its careless offshore drilling caused a massive oil-spill in coastal waters of America.

(All the facts mentioned here are gathered from reports from the site by local TV channels.)

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