The Centre on Sunday said that adequate compensation will be given to those affected by the Assam gas leak and subsequent fire, and those responsible for the incident would be appropriately punished.
The announcement was made when Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas Dharmendra Pradhan and Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal visited Baghjan in Tinsukia district on Sunday. Nineteen days ago, a blowout had been reported at the Baghjan 5 well owned by Oil India Ltd (OIL) in the district.
The well, situated at an aerial distance of 900 m from the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, caught fire on the fourteenth day. Two firefighters died in the inferno.
“Oil India is a company that belongs to Assam. It has worked here for many decades. The Assam government — as well as the Centre — have constituted high-level inquiry committees,” said Pradhan, speaking to the locals in Baghjan. “We will make sure that the people responsible for this disaster are punished, no matter how powerful they are.”
On Sunday morning, the duo visited three relief camps where hundreds have been rehabilitated following the incident.
Also present were Union Minister of State for Food Processing Rameswar Teli, Industries and Commerce Minister Chandra Mohan Patowari, Agriculture Minister Atul Bora, Minister of State for Disaster Management Jogen Mohan, Minister of State for Tea Tribes Welfare Department Sanjay Kishan and Rajya Sabha MP Kamakhya Prasad Tasa.
“All those who lost their homes, farmlands, ducks, hens, fisheries etc. — whatever has been lost will be adequately compensated for,” said CM Sonowal. The CM added that he had requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to take strong steps, so that such an incident does not occur again in any oil or gas production centre.
While Rs 30,000 has been given as interim relief, CM Sonowal said that the government is working “on modalities to compensate the displaced persons adequately.”
As per Tinsukia DC Bhaskar Pegu, Rs 30,000 has already been transferred to 625 families. “The original list had 1,610 names. The rest will be given now,” he said, adding that there were 11,000 people spread across 13 relief camps at present. “The number has increased from 7,000, as there are many more people who have left their homes because of the recent tremors in the area,” he said.
Since Wednesday, there have been intermittent tremors felt up to a distance of 3km from the well. A team from North East Institute of Science and Technology (NEIST), Jorhat, reached the site on Sunday to study the tremors. DC Pegu said that while the panic has subsided, people are still worried about returning home. “Committees have been formed to assess the impact on livelihood but it will take time for the final report,” he said.
The state government has also announced some long-term measures to address welfare and development of the residents of Baghjan. As per a release from the Chief Minister’s Office, the government has earmarked Rs 27 crore for solving the flood and erosion problem of the area. “Apart from that, one model hospital and a veterinary hospital would set up in the area along with a model higher secondary school” said the release.
With the well located close to a national park and the Maguri-Motapung wetland, environmentalists have raised concerns about the impact on the surrounding ecology — the leak has already caused a Gangetic dolphin, a particoloured flying squirrel and a variety of fish to die in the wetland. Earlier on Friday, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) India issued a statement urging the Assam government to initiate immediate steps to restore the habitats. “WWF India requests the Government that relevant provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 must be invoked to take action against the company(ies) responsible for the irreparable damage to the environment and people. It is also imperative to ensure that no further damage is caused to the area and no such incidents are repeated in the future,” the statement said.
CM Sonowal said that he had appointed a high level inquiry — headed by Additional PCCF (wildlife) M.K.Yadava — to look into the impact of the incident on the ecology and environment of the area. He spoke about the Maguri-Motapung wetland, which has been covered by swathes of condensate as a result of the blowout and said that efforts will be made by the government and OIL to convert into “an international tourist destination.”
As per a statement from OIL on Sunday, the experts were at the well site “for assessment of site preparation for well control operation.” “Everything is going as per plan. Right now there is no delay and in 20 days the blowout should hopefully be plugged,” said Tridiv Hazarika, OIL PRO. The fire is now limited to the top of the well-head, he said. A radius of 1.5 km from the site has been cordoned off. “People can still go in to collect their things because there are a number of homes that fall within that area, but there are two no-go zones: one is at a radius of 1 km, and the other about 400-500 m — where even the workers enter,” he said.
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