Protests were held across Tinsukia district of Assam on Thursday and effigies of state minister Chandra Mohan Patowary were burnt, a day after he tried to downplay the fire incident at Oil India Limited's gas well in Baghjan.
While interacting with the affected people at a relief camp, Patowary said on Wednesday night that the fire incident at Baghjan was nothing compared to oil blaze in countries such as Russia and Iran.
"In Russia, a massive fire continued to burn for almost 80 days. This is nothing in comparison to Russia. Such fires have taken place in Iran also," he told the aggrieved people at one of the relief camps.
Though no journalists were accompanying him, one of the villagers made a video of his interaction with the people and shared it with some local reporters on Thursday.
"In oil, this is not the only fire. Tripura had a bigger fire than this. In 2012, we had a similar fire in Dibrugarh district's Dikam," the industries and commerce minister said.
In the video, people can be seen requesting the minister not to compare the Baghjan tragedy with that of any other country.
"Sir, please do not compare it with others. How the Russian government will compensate, the Indian government will not do that," one of the villagers said.
The footage has sparked outrage on social media and people came out on the streets in Tinsukia and raised slogans against the minister and the BJP-led government in the state.
"Patowary came after 14 days. And after coming here, he is making such shallow comments that even Russia, Iran have seen bigger fires than this. You failed to control the fire and it killed two persons," Congress MLA Rupjyoti Kurmi told reporters after visiting a relief camp.
The Tinsukia district unit of the All Assam Students' Union (AASU) burnt Patowary's effigy and strongly condemned the minister's statement.
"He came to see that people have suffered. Without feeling their pain, he just made some shallow comments. Why did he compare it with Russia?", one of the protesters said.
Another person staying at a relief camp said, "He must have come to see our plight and have fun. That is why he could insult us by making such a statement. They (the government) do not feel for the poor."
Meanwhile, the Oil India Ltd (OIL) and Tinsukia district administration said they have moved around 7,000 people from nearby areas of the gas well site at Baghjan to 12 relief camps.
Well number 5 at Baghjan has been spewing gas uncontrollably for the last 16 days and it caught fire on Tuesday afternoon, killing two of OIL's firefighters at the site.
The massive blaze can be seen from a distance of more than 30 km with thick black smoke going up several metres high, endangering the local biodiversities.
Two officials of the OIL have been suspended for alleged negligence of duty at the gas well site, while a show cause notice has been sent to the John Energy Pvt Ltd, the outsourced private operator of the well.
A PIL was also filed at the Gauhati High Court on Wednesday against OIL, John Energy, the Centre and the state government over the incident.