Gauhati HC issues notices to Centre, Assam govt, OIL over drilling wells inside national park
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had accorded environmental clearance to OIL for drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at 7 locations under Dibru-Saikhowa National Park
The Gauhati High Court on Wednesday issued notices to the Centre, Assam government, Oil India Ltd (OIL) and different agencies in a case related to permission given to the PSU major for drilling seven wells inside Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, which is adjacent to Baghjan well tragedy site in Tinsukia district.
Hearing a public interest litigation, filed jointly by advocate Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amar Jyoti Deka, a division bench comprising Chief Justice (Acting) N Kotiswar Singh and Justice Manish Choudhury directed the 14 respondents to file their affidavits within two weeks and fixed October 20 as the next date.
The bench considered another PIL filed by advocate Gautam Uzir along with it as both were filed on the same issue.
"On the earlier date, the court had asked the opposite parties to reply to the PIL. However, no one replied except Oil India. So, the court today issued notices to all the respondents and gave two weeks' time," the petitioners' advocate Rakhee Sirauthia Chowdhury said.
Though OIL had replied to the court's earlier directions, the notice was issued to them on an additional affidavit filed by the petitioners, Chowdhury said.
Debajit Das, another advocate of the petitioners', said that the bench also asked the respondents to submit their replies on the compliance of the orders of the Supreme Court in respect of 'Bio Diversity Impact Assessment Study'.
The petitioners made 14 respondents in the case -- Government of India (GoI), Secretary to the government of India, Assam government, 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 for drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at seven locations under Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, north west of Baghjan.
The PIL was filed against the Central government'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 the earlier "A Project".
"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 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 gas well tragedy can take place there also, thereby threatening the entire park.
Fire is raging at OIL's Baghjan well site since June 9 following a gas blowout from well number five since May 27.
Two firefighters were killed in the blaze. Later, an engineer died after receiving electric shock when he was working at the well site.
On May 19, the energy major 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 necessary permissions in 2016.
The company had claimed that it would drill the seven wells inside the National Park from about 1.5 km outside the boundary of the forest with the help of advanced Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) technology.