Baghjan Fire Disaster

Image Source: The Kootneeti

On the 20th of May, the Oil India Limited (OIL) announced that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate change had given it clearance for extension drilling and testing of hydrocarbons in seven locations under Dibru Saikhowa National Park area and North-West of Baghjan in the Tinsukia district of Assam. Within the next week, there was a blowout in the oil well in Baghjan 5. There was a leakage left unchecked leading to a huge fire on the 9th of June, killing 2 fire fighters. The Saikhowa National Park situated close by was terribly impacted. Deaths of the endangered Gangetic Dolphin along with a variety of fishes and other Migratory birds alongside stray animals were reported. This was despite the assurances given by OIL that there would be no damage to the wildlife at the National Park.

OIL has been drilling in said location since 2006, which is in direct contravention of the Guidelines and the National Park Plan introduced by the Ministry. the Eco Sensitive Zone (ESZ) of this year was notified this year stating that the radial distance from the park varies from 0 to 8.7 km. The Baghjan 5 OIL well was at a distance of less than a kilometer away from the wetlands, a part of the ESZ. There were certain rules laid down in 1989 to prevent such accidents, they included the general responsibility of the occupier during industrial activity and also directed to ensure the need for an on-site emergency plan. OIL ignoring both of these seems to have been the reason for the leak. The breakout caused irreversible damageto the rich biodiversity of the National Park and continues to pose a threat to the species and their habitat. This project undertaken by OIL is the result of a poor Environment Impact Assessment, low maintenance and lack of attention. The National Green Tribunal has the power to take suo moto cognizance against the defaulters.

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