Residents of Baghjan in Tinsukia district of Assam on Monday staged a dharna for six hours demanding immediate compensation to those affected by the blowout and subsequent fire at a Oil India Limited gas well, a day after chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal promised a development package and “maximum compensation” and action against those found guilty of lapses.
Satyajit Moran, president of Baghjan Gaon Milan Jyoti Yuva Sangha, told The Telegraph that they will continue to protest till their demands are met. Monday’s protest was held at a school 1.5km from the gas well. Around 600, mostly women and children, from one of the relief camps participated in the dharna, Moran said.
“We have not heard anything from the authorities so far and we are not satisfied with the package announced by the chief minister on Sunday. Our survey revealed 635 families from Baghjan and Kaliapani have been worst affected in the blowout and subsequent fire. We want the government and Oil India to hear our pleas,” Moran said.
Sonowal’s development package includes a Rs 26-crore outlay to put in place a permanent solution to the problems of floods and erosion in Baghjan, a hospital, a veterinary hospital, a higher secondary school, a skill development centre and a plan to build a 15km Tinsukia-Baghjan road. He also promised maximum compensation to the affected but did not specify any amount. A damage assessment is going on, and Oil India has provided emergency relief of Rs 30,000 to each affected family.
The Sangha, on the other hand, demanded Rs 30,000 every 10 days and Rs 1 lakh every month for 30 years since the affected people would not be able to grow anything in their fields because of the contamination. It also sought a one-time assistance of Rs 1 crore for each affected family.
That the reach-out by Sonowal in the presence of Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan did not cut much ice with the affected people was reported by this newspaper on Monday.
Opposition leader Debabrata Saikia urged Assembly Speaker Hitendra Nath Goswami to lead an all-party delegation on a fact-finding tour to areas affected by the Centre’s move to allow fresh mining/drilling activity in various national parks, biosphere reserves and other eco-sensitive zones of Assam, including Baghjan.
In a letter to Goswami, Saikia said the earlier law had mandated public hearings before permitting new mining/drilling activity in eco-sensitive zones. However, the Centre recently amended the law and included extraction of oil, natural gas, coal etc in the “B2” category solely to avoid holding public hearings, he claimed.
Saikia said the immediate intervention of elected Assembly members had become imperative because “this sensitive issue would have considerable impact on the political, economic and social scenario of Assam in the time to come”.
The Tinsukia district administration on Monday sought the help of the army to construct a 150m bridge over a water body adjacent to the gas well, which caught fire on June 9.
“In view of the urgency to cap the well, mobilisation of materials and personnel under the Tezpur-based 3 Corps, required for logistics and construction of a bridge at Baghjan site, is under way from Misamari and Tezu to Baghjan, about 530km east of Guwahati,” an Oil India statement said.
Oil India also said that due to bandhs and blockades by locals and student organisations, there has been a cumulative production loss of 5,386 metric tonnes of crude oil and 7.04 million metric standard cubic metres of natural gas. “A metric tonne of crude costs on an average Rs 10,000,” an official said.
Oil India also said a team from the CSIR-North East Institute of Science and Technology, Jorhat, will be installing five broadband seismographs for measuring seismic activity because of the May 27 blowout. “It will take seven to 10 days to record the data. Locations have been identified and preliminary civil work for deployment of the instruments is in progress,” the statement said.
Locals have complained of experiencing tremors following the fire, which damaged the walls of their dwellings located within a radius of 1.5km from the well.