Guwahati, December 7: The Gauhati High Court on Monday stayed the Centre’s permission to Oil India Ltd (OIL) to drill seven wells inside Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, which is adjacent to Baghjan well blaze site in Tinsukia district.
The stay order was issued by a division bench of Chief Justice (Acting) N Kotiswar Singh and Justice Manish Chowdhury disposing a PIL filed jointly by advocate Mrinmoy Khataniar and mountaineer Amar Jyoti Deka.
The PIL was filed against the Centre’s approval to OIL for drilling inside the forest very rich in biodiversity by amending existing norms like public hearing under the draft Environment Impact Assessment Notification 2020.
The petition contended that the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change(MoEF&CC) had amended the existing rule related to public hearing on January 16, 2020 and categorised all onshore and offshore oil and gas explorations as ‘B2 Project’ from ‘A Project’ earlier.
The MoEF&CC had accorded environmental clearance to OIL for drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at seven locations under Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, north west of Baghjan in Tinsukia district.
On May 19 OIL, a PSU major had published an advertisement in a leading English newspaper about the company receiving permission to drill inside the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, evoking sharp reactions in the social media regarding protection of the forest.
The petitioners’ advocate Debajit Kumar Das told PTI, “After hearing the counsel the Hon’ble division bench of Gauhati High Court stayed the environmental clearance dated on May 11 this year for non compliance of the Supreme Court order of September 7, 2017”.
As per the Supreme Court order OIL was required to conduct the Bio Diversity Impact Assessment Study, he added.
“The division bench of the Gauhati High Court was prima facie satisfied that OIL had failed to carry out the assessment study. So, it stayed the exploration and drilling of seven hydrocarbon projects in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park,” said Rakhee Sirauthia Chowdhury, another advocate of the petitioners.
The HC had on October 20 slapped a fine of Rs 10,000 on Assam forest department for failing to file an affidavit regarding violation of the Supreme Court order related to the Bio Diversity Impact Assessment Study.
There were 14 respondents in the case — the Government of India (GoI), the secretary to GoI, the Assam government, principal secretary, principal chief conservator of forest and head of forest force and principal chief conservator of forest (Wildlife).
Among the rest were National Board of Wildlife, State Board of Wildlife, Oil India Ltd (OIL), the Central Pollution Control Board and the State Pollution Control Board.
The petition also said that if the company is allowed to go ahead with the drilling then situations like Baghjan’s gas well tragedy can take place there too, thereby threatening the entire park.
OIL had in an official statement on May 20 said that in order to tap the hydrocarbon resources underneath the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, it had approached statutory bodies for obtaining necessary permissions in 2016.
The company had claimed that it would drill the seven wells inside the national park from about 1.5 km distance outside the boundary of the forest with the help of advanced Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) technology.
It had asserted that no disturbance to the environment and Dibru-Saikhowa National Park is envisaged due to use of the ERD technology. (PTI)