Environmental Disaster: Analysis of NGT’s Order In the Assam Oil Well Fire Incident

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On the morning of May 27th, 2020, an Oil Well Located in Eastern Assam’s Tinsukia District witnessed a snuff out. It was due to the uncontrollable leakage of crude oil or gas from production. It took place due to machine failure. Oil India Limited (OIL) or Oil’s Bagjan Oilfield controls the well. The gas has been flowing continuously for 13 days following attempts to pump in water.

Maguri-Motagung Wetland is adjoined to the wetland, and Sai Khawa National Park is nearby to the oil well. The oil well fire affected around 1610 families and has destroyed the ecology of the area. The people living in nearby villages are in the relief camps. Some people even reported that the incident of fire was like earthquake-tremors.

Filing of PIL

Bonani Kakkar, an environmentalist, filed the PIL along with an Assam based NGO Wild Life and Environment Conservation Organisation. They preferred the application alleging failure of the Respondent Authorities (Oil India Limited ) in preventing the blowout of Baghjan 5 under the Baghjan Oilfield of OIL in Tinsukia District, Assam resulted in a massive fire. It caused irreparable loss to the region’s entire biodiversity and loss of life and property.

Damages

The incident resulted in a massive fire causing irreparable loss. It caused to the entire biodiversity of the region and loss of lives and property. The oil well was located near the Eco-Sensitive Zone (ESZ) of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. The gas is a mix of propane, methane, propylene, and other gases. It flowed with the wind and spread into the Park. According to the Applicant, it records over 40 mammals, 500 species of birds, 104 fish species, 105 butterfly species, and 680 types of plants.

Gangetic river dolphins, the national aquatic animal of India, have reportedly died as a result of the gas blowout. Numerous other endangered flora and fauna species were destroyed. The blowout has left behind vast volumes of residue as gas condensate which is a mixture of chemical compounds. These compounds are toxic for land and vegetation and are a known carcinogen. The blowout is not only dangerous to people’s safety but also has a significant impact on their lives. It mainly affects the people whose occupation is agriculture, fishing, and animal rearing. It is claimed that two firefighters died during the rescue process.

Protests around the State 

Protests have been raging all over the State because of the incident. Not only has it destroyed the area of flora and fauna but also affected many people’s lives through the incident. They are living in rescue camps leaving their house behind. The release of gas enormously impacts their health and worsens their living conditions.

Judgment and The NGT Order 

On June 24th 2020, The National Green Tribunal directed Oil India Limited (OIL) to deposit 25 Crores compensation with the District Magistrate, Tinsukia District Assam for the massive explosion that took place on June 9th,2020. The order states:

“In view of the prima facie case made out against OIL on the extent of damage caused to the environment and biodiversity, we direct the OIL to deposit an initial amount of Rs 25 Crores with the District Magistrate, Tinsukia District, Assam and shall abide by further orders of the Tribunal.”

The Bench comprised Justice SP Wangdi and Siddhanta Das. It created an eight-member committee to look into the matter and submit the preliminary report to Registry within 30 days.

The Bench directed the committee to examine:

  • The cause of gas and oil leak;
  • The extent of damage to humans, ecology and health hazard, caused to the public;
  • Any contamination caused to water, air and soil of the area of the oil well and its vicinity;
  • The extent of contamination of the Dibru river water due to the oil spill, impact on agriculture, fisheries and domestic animals;
  • Whether any mitigation measure was taken by OIL to offset the incidents such as the one in question;
  • Persons responsible for fire incidents and failure to prevent the incident;
  • Assessment of compensation for the victims. Cost of restitution of the damage caused to property and the environment;
  • Preventive and remedial measures.

It ordered that the next hearing will be on July 29th, 2020.

Conclusion 

The decision taken by NGT is supportable. However, it is well-known that the amount of damage could not be determined in monetary terms. The incident costed the lives of two firemen which is tragic. The Prime Minister of India assured the people that support, relief, and rehabilitation will be provided.


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