The National Green Tribunal on Wednesday directed Government-owned Oil India Limited (OIL), to deposit a sum of Rs. 25 Crores with the District Magistrate, Tinsukia District, Assam, in connection to a massive fire which exploded from OIL's Baghjan well.
"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 ₹25 Crores with the District Magistrate, Tinsukia District, Assam and shall abide by further orders of the Tribunal," a bench comprised by Justice SP Wangdi (Judicial Member) and Siddhanta Das (Expert Member) ordered.
The bench has also constituted an eight-member Committee to look into the matter and submit its preliminary report to the Registry within 30 days.
The Committee will consist of:
- Justice BP Katakey (former Judge of the Gauhati High Court);
- Member Secretary, CPCB;
- Senior Expert from CSIR;
- Dr. Sarbeswar Kalita (Professor & HOD of Environment Science, Guwahati University);
- Abhay Kumar Johari (Former Member Biodiversity Board);
- Ajit Hazarika (ExChairman, ONGCL);
- Secretary/Senior Scientist, SPCB;
- District Magistrate, Tinsukia District, Assam,
The order has been passed in two original applications, moved by environmentalist Bonani Kakkar and Assam based NGO Wild Life & Environment Conservation Organisation.
A massive fire broke out at Baghjan oil well of the Oil India Limited in Assam earlier this month that had allegedly been spewing gas since May 27. The fire is stated to be raging continuously, causing severe threat to the local population and the flora and fauna of the ecologically fragile region.
Thus, invoking the Precautionary Principle and the Polluters Pay Principle under Section 20 of the NG Act as well as the Public Trust doctrine, the applicants have sought that the Respondent-company be held accountable for causing "irreparable damage" to the community as well as the biodiversity of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Assam.
The released toxins are alleged to have long-term persistence in soils and sediments, due to percolation which will not only affect the current life conditions but, due to sustained release, pose a serious health risk for a longer-term.
It is alleged that the fire has not only affected the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park but claimed the lives of two fire-fighters, destroyed species of flora and fauna and killed many Gangetic river.
Further, the toxins released from the incident have allegedly destroyed land and vegetation, and are hazardous to the health of the people and have affected the livelihood of those whose occupation is mainly agriculture, fishing and animal rearing.
The Applicants have also alleged that OIL did not have a mitigation plan for such disaster even though the Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife had recommended the company to provide a legal undertaking about their environmental safeguards and to specify the nature and extent of their liability in case of accidents involving oil spillage/gas leakage into the region.
On being satisfied that a prima facie case is made out against the company, the court has constituted the Committee to visit and inspect the site and the area in question.
The Committee has been asked to examine on the following aspects:
- 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;
- For the purpose of (iv) and (v) above, it may be necessary 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;
- Impact on the eco sensitive zone of the DibruSaikhowa 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.
The matter will now be taken up for consideration on July 29.