The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Oil blockade cripples fields

Dibrugarh, April 29: The 72-hour-long economic blockade, organised by students’ unions against Oil India Limited (OIL), began today. A couple of vehicles were damaged but the blockade was by and large peaceful.

The oil major was left counting its losses as crude and natural gas production in numerous oil and gas fields across Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts came to a grinding halt from this afternoon.

Protesters pelted stones at two vehicles, one belonging to the company and the other, a private one, near Duliajan police station.

The blockade was called by four influential students’ organisations of Upper Assam: the All Assam Tai Ahom Students Union, the All Assam Moran Students Union, the All Assam Muttock Yuba Chatra Sanmelan and the All Assam Sonowal Kachari Students Union from 6 am.

The All Assam Students Union (AASU) extended support to the blockade, claiming that both Delhi and Dispur were ignoring local sentiments.

With activists blocking oilfields and adjacent oil collecting and gas collecting stations of OIL from daybreak, several such stations had to be shut down this afternoon. The company did not wish to take any risks.

Sources said operations in Barekuri, Bagjan, Chabua, Nagajan, Jorajan and Dikom have been greatly affected. A senior official added that the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) plant at Duliajan, Assam Gas Company Limited (which markets the gas produced by the company) and Neepco’s gas-based power station at Kathalguri will suffer massive losses.

OIL officiating group general manager N.K. Agarwal said: “We should be able to assess the situation by tomorrow afternoon. Right now, our priority lies in ensuring the security and safety of our assets and employees.”

Agarwal was unable to spell out anything regarding the eight demands put forward by the agitating students. “The unions have not handed over any memorandum to us in writing. Whatever we have learnt about their demands is from the media. They should come forward for discussions.”

The district administration is trying its best to end the standoff, but the students’ unions have made it clear that now they will only sit down with the chairman-cum-managing director of the company for future parleys.

The organisations have demanded a Rs 400-crore special economic package for the overall development of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts and filling up of vacancies (mostly with local people) and creation of new posts.

They also want OIL to spend 50 per cent of its returns on development of areas where it discovers new fields and to compensate farmers whose land is damaged by pollution caused by the company’s operations.

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