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OIL cannot shirk responsibility for fire at Baghjan well: NGT

Operation of the well that underwent a blowout earlier was outsourced to a Gujarat-based firm

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has said that Oil India Limited (OIL) cannot shirk responsibility for the fire at a natural gas well in eastern Assam’s Baghjan in June 2020 by blaming the firm its operation was outsourced to.

John Energy Private Limited, a Gujarat-based firm, had been operating the Baghjan well.

Close to the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park straddling Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts, Well No. 5 burst into flames almost a fortnight after it underwent a blowout – uncontrolled ejection of gas at great speed – on May 27, 2020. Two of OIL’s fire-fightiers were killed at the site while an engineer died later during the course of an exercise to cap the well.

Hearing a plea by activist Bonani Kakkar and others, slamming the authorities for failing to prevent the blowout, the NGT had constituted a six-member committee to fix responsibilities.

A Bench headed by the environment watchdog’s Chairperson, Justice A.K. Goel, said it prima facie agreed that OIL failed to take safety precautions and there was need for ensuring such incidents do not recur.

“We direct this aspect to be gone into by a six-member committee headed by the Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, in consultation with the DG Hydrocarbon and DG Mines Safety, DG Oil Industry Safety and PESO (Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organisation), Chief Controller of Explosives, New Delhi within three months,” the tribunal said.

It also advised the panel to review the situation and take appropriate measures, including prescribing action against the individuals concerned for the failures.

Compliance of safety protocols

“It [committee] may also lay down the road map for ensuring compliance of safety protocols by all similar installations… The committee may also suitably take into consideration the observations in the reports of the committee earlier appointed,” the NGT said.

The tribunal also formed a seven-member joint committee comprising officials from the Environment Ministry, Central Pollution Control Board, Assam Forest Department, the State’s Biodiversity Board and Wetland Authority.

A major task of this joint committee would be assessing the damage to the environment around Baghjan – specifically the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and the Maguri-Motapung Wetland close to the blowout well – and come up with a restoration plan.

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