The Gauhati High Court on Tuesday slapped a fine of Rs 10,000 on Assam Forest Department for failing to file an affidavit in a case related to permission given to Oil India to drill seven wells inside Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, which is adjacent to Baghjan well tragedy site. Hearing the PIL filed jointly by advocate Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amar Jyoti Deka, the HC Bench comprising Chief Justice (Acting) N Kotiswar Singh and Justice Manish Choudhury imposed the cost on the respondent for not adhering to the court's earlier instructions.
"The court imposed the penalty on the forest department for not filing the requisite affidavit regarding violation of the Supreme Court order related to the Bio Diversity Impact Assessment Study," the petitioners' advocate Debajit Kr Das told PTI. The matter will be listed after Durga Puja vacation and will be heard again in November for consideration of stay of the environmental clearance granted to seven hydrocarbon projects in eco-sensitive Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, he added.
The Gauhati HC had asked all the respondents to file their responses on August 17. When the affidavits were not filed, it was followed by notices on September 30 to all parties to file their replies along with their responses on the compliance to the Supreme Court orders in respect of the 'Bio Diversity Impact Assessment Study'. However, except Oil India, none of the respondents have filed their affidavits as of now, an advocate of the petitioners said.
ee 14 respondents in the case — Government of India (GoI), secretary to GoI, Assam government, the principal secretary, principal chief conservator of forest and head of forest force, and principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife). The National Board of Wildlife, State Board of Wildlife, Oil India Ltd (OIL), general manager, the deputy commissioner, commissioner and secretary, Central Pollution Control Board and State Pollution Control Board were also made parties in the case.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) had accorded environmental clearance to Oil India Ltd (OIL) for drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at seven locations under Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, north west of Baghjan in Tinsukia district. The PIL was filed against the Centre's approval to OIL for drilling inside the forest, which is very rich in biodiversity, by amending existing norms like public hearing under the draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020.
The petition highlighted that the MoEF&CC amended the existing rule related to public hearing on January 16, 2020 and categorised all onshore and offshore oil and gas explorations as 'B2 Project' from 'A Project' earlier. "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," it mentioned.
The petition also pointed out that if the company is allowed to go ahead with the drilling, then situations like Baghjan's gas well tragedy can take place there too thereby threatening the entire Park. An OIL gas well at Baghjan, which is abutting the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, has been spewing gas uncontrollably for the last 127 days and it caught fire on June 9, killing two of OIL's firefighters at the site. Another engineer died later due to high voltage electric shock when he was working at the well site.
On May 19, the PSU major 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 in the social media on the protection of the forest. The next day the company had said in an official statement that it had approached statutory bodies for obtaining necessary permissions to tap the hydrocarbon resources underneath the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in 2016.
The company had claimed that it would drill the seven wells inside the National Park from a distance of about 1.5 km outside the forest boundary 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.