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Promises cap oil blockade

Dibrugarh, April 30: Saddled with huge financial losses after just a day of disrupted operations in Assam, Oil India Ltd today agreed to accord “top priority” to the demands of the four student organisations behind the “economic blockade” in return for calling off their agitation.

Leaders of the All Assam Tai Ahom Students Union, All Assam Moran Students Un-ion, All Assam Muttock Yuba Chatra Sanmelan and All Assam Sonowal Kachari Students Union relented after OIL chairman-cum-managing director M.R. Pasrija met them in Duliajan this afternoon.

Pasrija is understood to have promised to form a co-ordination committee with representatives of the company, the student unions and the civil administration to analyse the demands and suggest ways to fulfil them.

The 72-hour blockade, which took effect yesterday, hit OIL’s operations across Tinsukia and Dibrugarh districts. The Tinsukia district administration convened a round of talks before the blockade, but failed to dissuade the students from going ahead with their plan.

The main demands of the student organisations are a Rs 400-crore special economic package for the development of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts, an assurance to spend 50 per cent of the returns from new oilfields on welfare schemes for these areas, recruitment to vacant posts and creation of new jobs.

Their wish-list also includes compensation to farmers whose crops are directly or indirectly affected by drilling-related pollution, stipends to teachers and employees of “venture schools” in the two districts and a super-speciality hospital offering free treatment to the poor.

Supporting the blockade, the All Assam Students Union had held Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and chief minister Tarun Gogoi responsible for the impasse. It said getting a person from Assam to head the oil major would have given the company a more people-friendly face.

Pasrija told the student delegation that a blockade would not solve their problems. “Imposing a bandh or blocking oil operations can neither resolve any issue nor bring about development. Therefore, I appeal to my young friends to be positive. We will discuss all issues and demands and see how they could be met,” OIL spokesperson Nripen Bharali quoted him as saying.

Although they called off the blockade, the four student unions appeared cautious and said they would strictly monitor OIL’s follow-up actions. Union leaders explained their cynicism by claiming they had been “betrayed” by the company on numerous occasions.

Bharali said OIL’s operations would be normal in “two to three days”.

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