The Gauhati High Court has dismissed a PIL against PSU major Oil India, a private firm, the Centre and the state over the Baghjan gas well blowout and successive fire in Assam’s Tinsukia district.
Hearing arguments from both the petitioner and respondents, the bench comprising Chief Justice Ajai Lamba, and Justice Soumitra Saikia on Friday disposed of the public interest litigation filed by environmentalist-cum-entrepreneur Niranta Gohain.
“In Paragraph 4 of the petition, it has been pleaded that the petitioner has no personal interest in the litigation. However, learned counsel for the petitioner states that the petitioner is an entrepreneur and has a lodge in the nearby area,” the court said.
“Learned counsel, however, has not been able to dispute that all such hotels, motels, and lodges are not functional on account of spread of pandemic under the state-issued regulations,” the order said. Stating that a prayer was made in the application to conduct an inquiry other than seeking compensation, the court said that a number of probes have already been ordered by various agencies.
“Considering various aspects of the case, this petition cannot be entertained in the present form. We have taken judicial notice of the fact, as noted above, that enquiries in the incident have already been ordered. The matter is still at inceptual stage,” they said.
“In such circumstances, the petitioner would be at liberty to file a fresh petition, if genuine public cause demands, however, on the basis of relevant data and findings recorded by the enquiry agencies,” the court said.
On June 10, Gohain filed the petition with 12 respondents, including Oil India Ltd (OIL), John Energy Pvt Ltd, and various agencies of the Centre and the state government. Petitioner’s advocate, Santanu Borthakur, had said the PIL seeks adequate compensation to all the affected parties, a proper inquiry into the incident, and measures to protect and restore the rich biodiversity of the area. At present, five inquiries are taking place to find out the facts — a three-member probe by the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, a one-member probe by Assam Chief Minister and an internal five-member inquiry by OIL.
Besides, two more crucial independent investigations of technical nature are being carried out by Directorate General Of Mines Safety (DGMS) and Oil Industry Safety Directorate (OISD). The chief minister also ordered the Additional Principal Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) to conduct a study on the effects of the explosion on the environment and ecology of the surrounding areas, including on flora and fauna in the adjacent Dibru-Saikhowa National Park. Well number-5 at Baghjan has been spewing gas uncontrollably for the last 18 days and it caught fire on Tuesday afternoon, killing two of OIL’s firefighters at the site.
The blaze at the well is so massive that it can be seen from a distance of more than 30 km with thick black smoke going up several metres high, endangering the local biodiversity. Though there is no fire in the periphery of the well site at present, the company has declared an area up to 1.5 km of radius as “red zone” to avoid any untoward incident.
Already two officials of the OIL have been suspended for alleged negligence of duty at the gas well site, while a show-cause notice has been issued to John Energy Pvt Ltd, the outsourced private operator of the well. A case has also been registered against Oil India and John Energy over the incident.