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Cash relief but oil well blowout unchecked

Breathing difficulties due to air pollution force evacuation of villagers
The “condensate” or chemical spray from the blowout has poisoned water bodies, devastated tea gardens, betel groves and crop fields, and affected livestock.

Umanand Jaiswal   |   Guwahati   |   Published 05.06.20, 11:06 PM

Oil India Limited on Friday announced an immediate financial relief of Rs 30,000 for each family affected by the May 27 oil well blowout, which continued to spout crude and natural gas at Baghjan in Assam’s Tinsukia district.

Local people, who observed World Environment Day by planting a sapling wrapped in a black polythene sheet to mark the blowout’s toll on life and livelihood, told The Telegraph that they would accept the relief but go on pressing for a “reasonable amount”.

On Thursday, residents had marched near the blowout site demanding Rs 5,000 a day per family till the blowout was fixed.

Oil India said the 10-day-old blowout remained uncontrolled and that three experts from a Singapore-based firm, Alert Disaster Control, would arrive by June 7 evening to try and cap it. “The delay in their arrival is due to Covid-related clearances at Singapore,” an Oil India statement said.

The “condensate” or chemical spray from the blowout has poisoned water bodies, devastated tea gardens, betel groves and crop fields, and affected livestock.

The continuous, ear-splitting noise — like that of an airplane taking off — and the air pollution that caused breathing difficulties have forced the villagers to be evacuated.

Oil India said the immediate relief package had been decided at a tripartite meeting on Friday at the office of the Tinsukia deputy commissioner.

Present were representatives of the Baghjan Gaon Milan Jyoti Yuva Sangha and an Oil India team led by Biswajit Roy, director (HR & BD).

Oil India did not say how many families would be compensated, stating: “The detailed beneficiary list with name and bank account details will be prepared by the district administration.”

A day earlier, the company had said, based on figures provided by the district authorities, that 1,610 families had been evacuated to four relief camps. Oil India’s statement said the protests in front of the Baghjan EPS (early production set-up) installation, which were affecting operations, had been “withdrawn” after the meeting.

Baghjan residents Hemanta Moran and Manoj Hazarika said the meeting at the DC’s office in Tinsukia town, about 32km from the blowout site, continued for about two hours. “Oil India sought our cooperation to cap the gas leak. We are happy with the outcome but discussions will continue,” Moran said.

Before leaving for the meeting, some of the representatives of the affected families had planted the sapling, wrapped in black polythene, at the Rupkonwar Jatiya Vidyalay in Baghjan.

“We had to convey a message to Oil India and the authorities by observing a ‘black’ Environment Day so they would take all precautions to protect the local ecology,” Moran said.

Hazarika said: “An area of about 400 hectares has been affected. The greenery, birds, fish, livestock, tea gardens, vegetable farms have been hit. Oil India has to put lives and the environment first before resuming activities; else we will have to oppose them.”

Oil India said that all safety measures were being monitored continuously to protect the surrounding villages.

“Protection of the environment would be paramount while carrying out the well control operation,” its statement said.


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