The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Rio stakes claim to oil cake

Merapani, Feb. 16: Nagaland chief minister Neiphiu Rio has requested Delhi to either stop oil explorations in the disputed areas along its border with Assam or divide the royalty between the two neighbouring states.

Speaking at a public meeting here today, Rio said: “I have told deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and written to petroleum minister Ram Naik to either stop oil explorations in the disputed areas or give us the due share of the royalty earned by Assam.”

Efforts to contact his Assam counterpart, Tarun Gogoi, however, proved futile.

Rio raised the demand for oil royalty a day after his government staked its claim to the disputed areas and exhorted the Nagas to recover the land by settling in those areas.

Merapani, a hamlet that sits on the border between Assam’s Golaghat district and Wokha district of Nagaland, had witnessed a bloody confrontation between the police forces of the two states for three days from June 5, 1985. The fierce fighting had claimed 11 Nagaland police personnel and 100 from the other state.

Rio said he told the deputy Prime Minister about splitting the royalty into equal shares during his visit to Delhi on February 6.

The Nagaland chief minister said the total oil potential in the state extended over 6,000 square km, but most of these areas fall in the disputed belt.

The state has been deprived of revenue because the potential areas have remained largely untapped, while the state’s lone oilfield at Champang in Wokha district stretches over only 12 square km, he added.

He even condemned the Naga villagers for blocking resumption of oil exploration at Champang. Lotha villagers — the dominant tribe of Wokha district — near Champang refused to allow exploration in the area late last year.

“You keep talking about development, but when oil companies come here to explore, you don’t allow them to touch your land. This kind of attitude will not help anyone,” he said.

In Nagaland, people enjoy rights over land and resources and it is mandatory to take the permission of the local village authorities before implementing any project.

Apart from the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), a Canada-based oil company was ready to invest in the explorations in Nagaland if the villagers had given the go ahead, Rio said. “The ONGC and other multinational companies are ready to work in association with the state government. However, nothing can be done if you don’t agree,” he told the villagers.

Trying to drive home his point, the chief minister said the oil companies would assist the government in development activities like building hospitals, schools and roads in the area.

The ONGC was forced to stop oil explorations in Nagaland in the nineties following widespread protests.

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