The National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi vide order dated 24.06.2020 directed Government owned Oil India Limited (OIL) to deposit an initial amount of Rs. 25,00,00,000/- (Rupees Twenty-Five Crores Only) in connection with the Baghjan blowout tragedy.
The ecological disaster at Baghjan in Tinsukia district of Assam was initiated by a blowout at well number 5, reported on 27.05.2020. On 09.06.2020, the well, located close to the Dibru-Saikhowa national park caught fire, claiming lives of two OIL firefighters. Around 11,000 people from the surrounding villages are now in relief camps set up by the State Administration. Both the Central and State government instituted inquiries to probe the incident.
The present order was passed in response to two separate applications raising the same grievance, alleging that the Respondents i.e. OIL and Union of India had failed to prevent the said blowout causing “irreparable loss to the entire biodiversity of the region and loss of lives and property”.
One of the applications was filed by Kolkata-based environmentalist Banani Kakkar (Original Application No. 43/2020/EZ) and the other by Wildlife and Environment Conservation Organisation (Original Application No. 44/2020/EZ) which works for conservation of environment awareness in Upper Assam districts.
Applicant No. 1, i.e. Banani Kakkar contended that it was due to the negligence on part of OIL that led to the catastrophe. Similarly, Applicant No. 2, stressing on the negligence on part of OIL invoked the precautionary principle and the Polluters Pay Principle under Section 20 of the National Green Tribunal Act, 2010 as well as the “Public Trust” doctrine.
Referring to a recent newspaper report published on www.hindustantimes.com dated 11.06.2020, Applicant No.1 further contended that the toxic fumes and oil coating had universally affected the area’s flora and fauna and that the place of incident was merely 500 metres away from Motapung Beel and Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, due to which immediate steps were required to contain the spill over in order to prevent any further damage.
After hearing the merits of the present case, the Coram comprising of Justice S. P. Wangdi and Expert Member, Hon’ble Mr. Siddhanta Das directed to constitute an eight member Expert Committee headed by Hon’ble Mr. Justice B.P. Katakey, former Judge of the Gauhati High Court to look into the present matter.
As per the said order, the Expert Committee’s functioning expenditure would be taken care of by the State of Assam. The Committee would visit and inspect the area in question and examine the site on the following aspects:
- Cause of gas and oil leak;
- Extent of loss and damage caused to human life, wildlife, and environment;
- Damage and health hazard caused to the public;
- Whether any contamination has been caused to water, air and soil of the area of the oil well and its vicinity;
- Extent of contamination of water of the Dibru River due to the oil spill;
- For the purpose of (iv) and (v) above, it may be necessary to get the air quality monitored and, samples of soil and ground water of the area as well as the water of river Dibru downstream of the oil spill tested;
- Impact on the eco sensitive zone of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Maguri-Motapung Wetland;
- Impact on agriculture, Fishery and domestic animals in the area;
- Whether there were any mitigation measures put in place by OIL to offset the incidents such as the one in question;
- Persons responsible for the fire incidents and the cause of failure to prevent the incident;
- Assessment of compensation for the victims and cost of restitution of the damage caused to property and the environment;
- Preventive and remedial measures;
- Any other incidental or allied issues
The Hon’ble Coram directed the Expert Committee to submit its preliminary report to the Registry by e-mail at email@example.com in not more than 30 days from the present order.
Finally, directing Oil India Limited to pay an initial amount of Rs. 25,00,00,000/- (Rupees Twenty Five Crores Only), the Hon’ble tribunal held as follows, “In view of the prima facie case made out against OIL on the extent of damage caused to the environment and biodiversity, damage to both human and wildlife, public health and, having regard to the financial worth of the Company and the extent of damage, we direct the OIL to deposit an initial amount of ₹25 Crores with the District Magistrate, Tinsukia District, Assam and shall abide by further orders of the Tribunal.”
The matter is decided to be heard on 29.07.2020.