The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has ordered public sector Oil India Limited (OIL) to deposit ₹25 crore with the administration of eastern Assam’s Tinsukia district for environmental damage due to the fire in one of its wells.
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Well Number 5 at Baghjan caught fire less than a fortnight after it experienced a blowout – uncontrolled escape of natural gas at great speed – on May 27. The well is close to the Maguri-Motapung wetland, which is within the eco-sensitive zone of the fragile Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.
Hearing separate applications by environmentalist Bonani Kakkar and Assam-based Wildlife and Environment Conservation Organisation on Wednesday, the NGT’s bench, comprising Justice S.P. Wangdi and Siddhanta Das, ordered OIL to pay the fine.
The amount was “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”.
The bench also constituted an eight-member committee to “look into the matter of and submit its preliminary report” within 30 days. Retired Gauhati High Court judge B.P. Katakey is heading this panel.
Release of toxins
The applicants had said OIL should be held accountable for causing “irreparable damage” to the community as well as the biodiversity of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. The release of toxins due to the blowout and fire, they said, posed a serious long-term health risk.
Apart from the fire claiming the lives of two firefighters, the applicants 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 it 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 and gas leakage into the region.
The matter would be taken up for consideration on July 29, the NGT said.