The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Anger spills over oil slick

Chabua, Aug. 10: Residents of several villages in Assam’s Dibrugarh district have decided to “block” operations by Oil India Ltd (OIL) from Friday in protest against continuous crude spillage from storage tanks to croplands.

Over 20,000 residents of at least five villages in Chabua, not far from Dibrugarh town, have united under the banner of the Lakhimi Pathar Parichalana Samity to launch the agitation. The organisation said a “total blockade” of drilling operations had become necessary because the oil giant “did not pay heed” to its plea to prevent oil spills.

There are several OIL sites in the area. Two of these are in Rajabari Pullong Gaon, the village that has been affected the most by oil spillage. A pipeline runs along the hamlet.

OIL officials declined to say how much crude was being pumped out from the two oilwells, but villagers estimated that over 20 tankers of crude were being transported everyday.

A resident of the area said the makeshift boundary walls around the storage tanks should have been replaced with concrete structures. “These mud walls gave way a few days ago because of continuous rainfall. Now, there is crude oil everywhere,” said Rajib Gohain, who owns 15 bighas of farmland at Rajabari Pullong Gaon.

Some farmers have built brick walls around their fields to prevent crude oil from seeping in.

The residents of Rajabari Pullong Gaon and its neighbouring villages collectively rose in protest for the first time a month ago.

“We want the OIL authorities to initiate permanent steps such as construction of walls around the storage tanks. Mud walls won’t suffice anymore,” Gohain said.

A senior OIL official passed the buck to private contractors engaged by the company, but promised to compensate the villagers for their losses. “The problem has surfaced because there are flaws in the boundary walls. We are assessing the damage and will adequately compensate the villagers whose fields have been affected by crude spillage,” he said over phone from Duliajan.

Villagers said some OIL officials had threatened to call the army and the police to guard the drilling sites if they went ahead with the blockade.

“We will not bow to any such threat by OIL. It does not matter whether the army or any other force guards the sites. We will stop all operations of the company. Enough is enough,” said Indrajit Gohain, a resident of the area, said.

Apart from damaging crops and reducing the potency of the soil, crude oil on the fields has endangered livestock. Dead fish and frogs litter the fields in the area.

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