PIL in National Green Tribunal about Baghjan Oil Well Blowout

June – July 2020

Well No 5 at Baghjan Oilfield after it caught fire on 7 July 2020 © Binanda Hatiboruah

On May 27 2020, an oil rig operated by the public sector unit Oil India Limited (OIL) in Baghjan, Assam blew out and started leaking gas and oil particles uncontrollably. The well broke into a fire on June 9 and resulted in a raging inferno which is burning till this day. The oilfields are located less than a kilometre away from Dibru Saikhowa National Park and less than 500 metres away from Maguri-Motapung Beel – both important biodiversity hotspots. The gas condensate and oil particles coated the vegetation and wetland causing irreversible damage to the region’s fragile ecology and wildlife, and acutely impacted the livelihoods of communities that rely on the wetlands and forests.

PUBLIC, a Kolkata based environmental organization moved an application before National Green Tribunal in relation to the Baghjan Oil Well Blowout in Assam. The main objectives of this petition were appointment of an independent committee for impact assessment and ensuring that the polluter pays for the restoration of the habitat.

HEAL members worked closely with the petitioners in preparing for the hearing and provided various factual and legal inputs. The hearing took place on 24th June and the tribunal passed an interim order on 25th June, which took note of the rich biodiversity of the region – including the threatened species of birds and mammals – and the impact that they have suffered. It ordered the constitution of an independent committee of experts headed by a retired Guwahati High Court Judge, which will investigate the impact of the blowout and submit its report to the tribunal by 25th July. Oil India Limited was also ordered to to deposit an initial amount of 25 Crores with the DM, Tinsukia, Assam as interim compensation.

OIL filed an application for recall of this order before the principal bench of NGT which refused to recall its earlier order. Additionally, the bench directed the MOEF & CC to appoint another expert committee to revamp it’s monitoring mechanism in order to ensure effective prevention of such incidents in future and submit an action taken report before NGT within 3 months. On an undertaking given by OIL to NGT that they have set aside adequate amounts for compensation the bench deferred the deposit of Rs 25 crores with the DM, Tinsukia. The next date of hearing is 29 June 2020.

The news was carried by a number of national media houses, and here are some links :
https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/assam-fire-oil-india-to-pay-interim-fine-of-rs-25-crore-to-green-court-2252296
https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/assam-gas-well-fire-ngt-imposes-interim-fine-of-rs-25-crore-on-oil-forms-committee-to-probe-blowout/articleshow/76630806.cms
https://indianexpress.com/article/north-east-india/assam/fire-at-iols-assam-well-ngt-slaps-interim-fine-of-rs-25-crore-on-oil-forms-committee-6476284/
https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ngt-asks-oil-india-limited-to-pay-25-crore-for-well-blowout-damage/article31915837.ece
https://m.hindustantimes.com/editorials/assam-oil-blowout-fire-the-polluter-must-pay/story-NOWyGTJ9798FRCabxVxDQI_amp.html

Here are some images of the disaster and its aftermath