Baghjan oil well fire: new panel to assess damages

SC ousts NGT’s 10-member committee

Updated - September 03, 2021 01:12 am IST

Published - September 03, 2021 01:09 am IST - NEW DELHI

The Supreme Court on Thursday formed an expert committee led by former Gauhati High Court judge, Justice B.P. Katakey, to assess the damage and the cost of reparation of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and surrounding ecologically fragile areas of Assam, which were damaged in the Baghjan oil well blowout in May 2020.

Justice Katakey’s committee substitutes the National Green Tribunal’s 10-member committee led by the Assam Chief Secretary in which the Managing Director of Oil India Limited, the public sector company allegedly responsible for the fire and destruction, was a member.

A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said the committee’s work would require extensive domain expertise and was of an “adjudicatory” nature. Moreover, the apex court took exception to having the OIL chief on board the very same committee which would decide the compensation.

The court recorded that this would be a “serious conflict of interest and would not contribute to the fairness of the outcome”. Besides Justice Katakey as chairperson, the new committee would comprise Qamar Qureshi, a professor with the Wildlife Institute of India; Ritesh Kumar, Director of the Wetlands International South Asia; Bedanga Bordoloi, a soil expert and G.S. Dang, a petroleum expert.

The court requested the committee to begin its work expeditiously and submit an interim report within a month on the remedial compensation OIL ought to pay. The Court directed OIL to pay for the committee’s expenses. The environment ministry has been ordered to appoint a nodal officer to facilitate the committee and take care of its logistical arrangements.

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