| A herd of wild elephants at Dibru-Saikhowa National Park |
Guwahati, Dec. 25: A two-member committee, constituted by the standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife to look into setting up of oil and gas pipelines by Oil India Limited near the protected areas of Upper Assam, has blamed the oil major of evading environmental norms.
“We are distressed that Oil India Limited, as a leading public sector company, instead of serving as a beacon for environmental compliance to others in the industry, appears to have evaded environmental norms,” the committee said in its report of site inspection, which was done between August 31 and September 2 this year.
The brief of the committee, comprising M.D. Madhusudan and Prerna Singh Bindra, was to visit the area and study the residents’ concerns on two proposals.
The first proposal was use of 114.267 hectares of non-forest land, falling within 10km of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Borajan-Bherjan-Podumoni wildlife sanctuary, for laying crude oil pipeline by OIL.
The second proposal was the use of 304.15 hectares of non-forest land for the expansion of gas field development in Tengakhat-Naharkotia-Jorajan area, Tinsukia-Dhola area and Doom-Dooma-Pengeri area.
The committee, in its site inspection report, has strongly disapproved the current trend of presenting the National Board for Wildlife with fait accompli situations and seeking post-facto clearances for projects on which work has already begun without the requisite prior permissions.
“Imposing penalties against such violations, we feel, conveys a completely wrong message, signalling that violations are acceptable and can be condoned at a price. This undermines regulatory processes and the rule of law intended to safeguard environment and conservation concerns and strike a balance between environmental and economic/developmental concerns,” it stated.
As for laying of crude pipelines in non-forest land falling within 10km of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Borajan-Bherjan-Podumoni wildlife sanctuary, the committee says it is mindful that considerable public investment has already been made into OIL’s project of national importance, but in a manner that gravely undermines environmental concerns that are of equal national importance.
“We, therefore, recommend that rather than levying a one-time penalty for this violation, OIL be enlisted to provide financial and in-kind support on a rolling basis to the Assam forest department for a specific long term plan (say, for at least 10 years). This should be done to further conservation of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and Borajan-Bherjan-Podumoni wildlife sanctuary.” The committee suggested that the Tinsukia wildlife division should prepare the plan in consultation with the Assam chief wildlife warden and OIL. Besides, funds, decided upon in consultation with the state forest department, should also be earmarked for protection of the environment.
“This plan may be placed before the standing committee and only following this, may a formal permission be accorded to this project,” it stated.
The committee has asked OIL to provide a legal undertaking to Tinsukia wildlife division about its environmental safeguards and specify the nature and extent of its liability in case of accidents involving oil spillage/gas leakage in the Maguri-Motapung wetland.
On the proposal for expansion of gas field development in Tengakhat-Naharkotia-Jorajan area, Tinsukia-Dhola area and Doom-Dooma-Pengeri area, it has asked OIL to pay particular attention, especially in establishing pipelines and other facilities on the extreme east of the Tengakhat-Nahorkhatiya-Jorajan area and on the southwest of the Doom Dooma-Pengeri area, that these structures do not obstruct the movement of elephants.