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Gauhati HC Postpones Hearing of PIL Against Centre's Nod to OIL to Drill Inside Assam Forest

Security personnel walk near the site of an oil well that exploded and caught fire at Baghjan, Tinsukia district. (AP)

Security personnel walk near the site of an oil well that exploded and caught fire at Baghjan, Tinsukia district. (AP)

The PIL has been filed against the approval given to OIL for drilling inside the forest, which is very rich in biodiversity, by amending norms like public hearing.

  • PTI
  • Last Updated: June 22, 2020, 7:03 PM IST
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The Gauhati High Court on Monday deferred the hearing of a PIL against the Centre's approval to Oil India Limited (OIL) for drilling seven wells inside Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, which is adjacent to Baghjan well tragedy site, and fixed July 13 as the next date.

However, there was much confusion inside the courtroom of the bench comprising Chief Justice Ajai Lamba and Justice Soumitra Saikia, and an initial oral order to re-file the petition was revoked after it was found that that the Registry did not send the full petition.

The 268-page petition was filed jointly by advocate Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amar Jyoti Deka, but the High Court Registry mistakenly sent only a portion of the complete file to the Bench for hearing on Monday.

"The registry inadvertently did not place the original file and sent a substitute file consisting of 78 pages. The confusion probably occurred due to filing of an application for early listing," petitioners' counsel Dabajit Kumar Das said.

Finding the petition incomplete, the court dismissed the PIL and asked the applicants to file it again, he added.

"Then we went to the registry to check our petition and found that the complete file was not sent. It was not intentional, but a mistake happened. We immediately went to the court and informed the judges about it," the petitioners' other advocate Rakhee Sirauthia Chowdhury said.

The lawyers of the applicants requested the Bench to hear the matter as there was no fault from their end, but the court deferred it after revoking the initial verbal order of re-filing the petition and fixed July 13 as the next date of hearing, she said.

The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) accorded environmental clearance to OIL for drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at seven locations under Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, northwest of Baghjan in Tinsukia district.

The PIL has been filed against the approval given to OIL for drilling inside the forest, which is very rich in biodiversity, by amending norms like public hearing.

It submitted that the MoEF&CC on January 16 this year amended the rules of 2006 related to public hearing and changed the categories of all onshore and offshore oil and gas exploration projects.

"The entire action of the authorities in bringing in the amendment... smacks of malice in fact and malice in law and is clearly reflective of an abuse of powers as vested in governmental authorities, besides being violation of the various protections under the Constitution of India [sic]," it mentioned.

The petition also pointed out that if the company is allowed to go ahead with the drilling, situations like Baghjan's gas well tragedy can take place there also, thereby threatening the entire park.

Baghjan is now in the news as an OIL gas well there has been spewing gas uncontrollably for the last 27 days and it caught fire on June 9, killing two of the PSUs firefighters at the site.

On May 19, OIL had published an advertisement in a leading English newspaper about the company receiving permission to drill inside the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, evoking sharp reactions on social media regarding protection of the forest.

The next day, the company had informed through an official statement that in order to tap the hydrocarbon resources underneath the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, it had approached statutory bodies for obtaining permission in 2016.

The company had claimed it would drill the seven wells inside the national park from about 1.5 km distance outside the boundary of the forest with the help of advanced Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) technology.

OIL had asserted that no disturbance to the environment and Dibru-Saikhowa National Park is envisaged due to the use of ERD technology.

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