Assam oil well fire: SC stays NGT order including OIL MD in panel to assess damage

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July 02, 2021 1:45 AM

The blow-out that took place on May 27 last year from Baghjan 5 oil well had damaged the entire biodiversity of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the Maguri-Motapung Wetland. The 172-day fire at the oil well had also left two of Central PSU’s firefighters dead.

A bench, led by Justice D Y Chandrachud, while seeking response from the ministries of environment and petroleum, Oil India and others also stayed the NGT’s February 19 order.A bench, led by Justice D Y Chandrachud, while seeking response from the ministries of environment and petroleum, Oil India and others also stayed the NGT’s February 19 order.

The Supreme Court on Thursday stayed a National Green Tribunal order that included Oil India’s managing director in its 10-member committee constituted to assess damages and fix responsibility for the failures in a fire incident in the company’s Assam’s Baghjan oil well in the Tinsukia district.

The blow-out that took place on May 27 last year from Baghjan 5 oil well had damaged the entire biodiversity of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the Maguri-Motapung Wetland. The 172-day fire at the oil well had also left two of Central PSU’s firefighters dead.

A bench, led by Justice D Y Chandrachud, while seeking response from the ministries of environment and petroleum, Oil India and others also stayed the NGT’s February 19 order.

Expressing surprise at the NGT order, the bench said since Oil India was accused of polluting the wetlands, its MD could not have been inducted in the committee. The inclusion of the Oil India official was “completely surprising,” it said.

“We are wholly disappointed by the manner in which the NGT has pushed this issue out of its hand. It is the National Green Tribunal. It must have some alacrity and concerns for the environment.

We are surprised that NGT first holds that Oil India is responsible for the damages to the environment and for destroying the wetlands and then an officer of Oil India is made a member of the committee to go into these issues,” the apex court said while hearing an appeal filed by activist Bonani Kakkar challenging the February 19 order.

The SC also said that it will set up a new committee that could go into all the issues and submit a report expeditiously.

It noted that, “Firstly, the earlier committee had submitted a comprehensive report before the NGT: initially, a preliminary report which was followed by a progress report and, hence, the constitution of three new committees will only delay the process. Secondly, for the determination of damages and compensation and for the restoration of the National Park and Wetland, a ten-member committee has been constituted headed by the chief secretary, Assam in which the managing director of Oil India has been inducted as a member.”

Senior advocate Siddharth Mitra, appearing for Kakkar, alleged that it was a breach of the principal justice, where somebody having a direct conflict of interest was being asked to decide the issue.

Kakkar, in the appeal, stated that the NGT had erred in not considering that the Baghjan gas leak and oil spill was an environmental emergency causing acute and life-threatening environmental risks which called for immediate response and not open-ended deliberations by committee after committee.

Besides, the tribunal failed to consider that an environmental emergency calls for independent and impartial sampling and analysis of air, water, soil, hazardous and toxic substances in order to provide immediate expert recommendations for appropriate followup action, which has neither been done, nor mandated in the present case, the appeal filed through counsel Shruti Agarwal stated.

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