Baghjan Gas Leak
Baghjan Gas Leak|PTI
Litigation News

[Baghjan Gas Leak] NGT directs OIL to pay Rs. 25 Crore as ‘initial amount’, Expert Committee to submit preliminary probe report in 30 days

Finding that a prima facie case has been made out against OIL with respect to the environmental damage caused, the company has also been directed to deposit “an initial amount” of rupees 25 crores.

Lydia Suzanne Thomas

Expressing concern over the environmental damage caused after a natural gas blowout in an Oil India Limited (OIL)-controlled oil well, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) yesterday issued notice in pleas against the company for its failure to control the leak and ensuing fires (Bonani Kakkar v. OIL and anr.)

On finding that a prima facie case has been made out against OIL with respect to the environmental damage caused owing to the blowout, the company has also been directed to deposit “an initial amount” of rupees 25 crores with the District Magistrate of Tinsukhia.

The NGT’s Principal Bench at Delhi comprising of Members SP Wangdi and Siddhanta Das has also directed the constitution of an expert committee to look into the matter.

The NGT has recommended the names of the following people to form part of the Expert Committee:

  • Justice BP Katakey, former Judge of the Gauhati High Court as Chairman

  • Member Secretary, Central Pollution Control Board

  • A senior expert from Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)

  • Dr. Sarbeswar Kalita, Professor and Head of the Department of Environment Science, Guwahati University

  • Abhay Kumar Johari, IFS (retired), Former Member Biodiversity Board

  • Ajit Hazarika, Ex-Chairman, ONGCL Member Secretary/Senior Scientist, Assam State Pollution Control Board

  • District Magistrate, Tinsukia District, Assam

The NGT has directed the Committee to file its preliminary report within a 30-day period.

The Tribunal added that the Committee “shall be at liberty to co-opt as member or seek opinion from any other expert/ experts or institution/institutions including Wildlife Institute of India (WII) Dehradun, if felt necessary.”

The Committee has been mandated with an inquiry into, inter alia:

  • the cause of the gas and oil leak;

  • the extent of loss and damage caused to human life, wildlife, and the environment;

  • the hazard to public health;

  • the extent of pollution to air and water, particularly the Dibru river

  • impact on eco-sensitive zones, and plant, animal, aquatic life.

  • impact on agriculture, domestic animal breeding, and fisheries

  • whether OIL had a mitigation plan in place, and persons responsible for the fires and the continuance of the gas leak.

  • compensating victims and/or restoring property lost as a result of the gas leak.

The applicant, Bonani Kakkar had detailed the extent of damage caused following the blowout to the region’s wetlands and biodiversity in her application, noting the huge loss of plant and animal life, and danger to endangered plants, mammals, birds and fish.

The blowout occurred on May 27 at Baghjan in the Motapung Maguri Beel region of Assam. The residue from the gas released, described in yesterday’s order as “a mix of propane, methane, propylene and other gases”, that had fallen on bamboo, tea, banana and betel nut groves. Fires from the blowout, which continues to rage, broke-out on June 9.

The applicant states that the residue from the blowout and the resultant fires have spread into the nearby Dibru-Saikowa National Park and Biosphere Reserve, home to several varieties of plant and animal life.

Borani Kakkar’s application also records the spillage of oil from the blowout into the Dibru river, which flows along wetlands and the National Park. Recording submissions on this issue, the order states,

“the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park … records over 40 mammals, 500 species of birds, 104 fish species, 105 butterfly species and 680 types of plants, including a wide variety of rare orchids. It harbours the tiger, elephant, wild buffalo, leopard, hoolock gibbon, capped langur, slow loris, Gangetic dolphin, besides critically endangered bird species such as the Bengal Florican, White Winged Duck, Greater Adjutant stork, White rumped vulture, slender billed vulture as well as the rare and endemic Black-breasted parrotbill.”

A second application on the issue has been moved by NGO, Wildlife and Environment Conservation Organisation, represented by Advocates Priyadarshi Chaitanyashil, Ranu Purohit, and Sant Rakshit Manu. This plea highlighted that the blowout and the fires has caused the displacement of more than 1,600 families, apart from loss of property and human and wildlife.

Senior Advocate Siddharta Mitra, who appeared for Kakkar along with Advocate Shruti Agarwal, drew the Tribunal’s attention to a study undertaken by Wildlife Institute, which reportedly stated that OIL did not have a mitigation plan despite recommendations by the National Board for Wildlife.

A Standing Committee of the Board is also stated to have asked OIL to specify environmental safeguards and liability in case of oil spillage into neighbouring wetlands.

The case has been listed to be taken up next on July 29, 2020.

Read the Order:

 Bonani Kakkar v. OIL and anr.pdf
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