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Cry for Cauvery-like mining shield for Assam

Green brigade cites Tamil Nadu legislation to press for steps on Baghjan
Some of the people affected by the blowout at Baghjan in Assam wait on a ground on Thursday.
Some of the people affected by the blowout at Baghjan in Assam wait on a ground on Thursday.
Picture by Manoj Kumar Ojha

Umanand Jaiswal   |   Guwahati   |   Published 13.06.20, 01:20 AM

The green brigade in Assam has cited a legislation passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly to protect farmers from the adverse impacts of mining in the Cauvery Delta to pile pressure on the government in the northeastern state to save ecologically sensitive zones following the Baghjan gas well blowout and fire that has devastated the local economy and ecology.

In what could be a major boost to the campaign to save Baghjan, Opposition leader Debabrata Saikia of the Congress told The Telegraph on Friday that elected representatives in Assam, cutting across party lines, should discuss the issue as soon as possible in the Legislative Assembly.


“We need to ponder as to whether a law should be passed to prohibit new mining and drilling activities in eco-sensitive zones of our state, as was done earlier this year by the government of Tamil Nadu,” Saikia said.

The Assembly had on February 20 passed the Tamil Nadu Protected Agricultural Zone Development Act, 2020, banning drilling and exploration of oil and natural gas, among others, to protect farmers in five districts in the Cauvery Delta region considered to be the rice bowl of the southern state. As per the law, a high-powered authority will be advising the government on measures to protect farmers and farming activities. The legislation, however, exempts existing projects.

Tamil Nadu is ruled by the AIADMK, an ally of the BJP-led NDA. In Assam, the BJP heads the state government.

Some recent decisions to allow fresh mining and drilling operations close to the Dehing-Patkai Reserve Forest and the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Assam have triggered widespread protests. The high court is hearing the Dehang Patkai case. North Eastern Coalfields last week temporarily suspended its operations in Assam following the protests.

Apurba Ballab Goswami, an environmentalist from Golaghat who had on June 8 filed an FIR at Baghjan police station holding Oil India and John Energy responsible for the May 27 gas well blowout and subsequent fire on June 9 that has devastated life, had posted on Facebook about the Tamil Nadu law and urged Assam MLAs to take bold steps to save biodiversity hotspots before these are lost to mining and drilling.

“If Tamil Nadu can pass a law to protect their farmers, why can’t Assam have such a law to protect their farmers and fishermen who depend on these hotspots for their livelihood? One just has to visit Baghjan to see the devastation caused by the blowout and the fire. About 7,000 people are affected and a popular wetland that sustained the livelihood of thousands is almost lost.

Similar is the case with the Dehang Patkai rainforest. This is the time to act before it is too late,” Goswami told this newspaper.

Dibru Saikhowa National Park, about 900m from Baghjan, straddles Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts while the Dehang Patkai wildlife sanctuary is spread over Sivasagar, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts in upper Assam.

Like Goswami, Bibhab Talukdar, CEO of leading Guwahati-based wildlife NGO Aaranyak, wants the Assam government to take a stand like Tamil Nadu to preserve its agriculturally rich land to promote organic farming and fish farming. “Polluting industries should not be encouraged close to forests and wildlife areas as these places play a key role in providing ecological security to the people and to the nation. Time to rethink the future development path for Assam keeping environmental security as the priority,” Talukdar said.

Goswami, Talukdar, Saikia and AASU president Dipanka Nath have made it clear they are not against a blanket ban on mining and drilling because these are also required, but the primary aim should always be to utilise natural resources only to the point that benefits society without jeopardising the ecological balance and bio-diversity of a region.

Saikia said Baghjan was a wake-up call.

“I have already knocked on the doors of Gauhati High Court with the goal of preventing unrestrained, illegal loot of Assam’s natural resources, and the court has directed that a Mines and Minerals Task Force Battalion be set up to prevent illegal mining activities in the state. It is high time to ensure that the necessary balance is maintained between profit motive and protection of the environment,” Saikia said.

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