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SC removes Assam chief secretary, OIL boss from blowout probe panel



Guwahati, Sep 5: The Supreme Court on Thursday removed Assam chief secretary and Oil India Ltd’s managing director from a 10-member panel set up by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) and reinstated former Gauhati high court judge B.P. Katakey led a five-member committee to assess the ecological damage caused by the Baghjan oil well blowout last year. The top court rejected OIL’s objection to Katakey as chairman of the committee that will assess and suggest measures to restore the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park and surrounding ecologically fragile areas in the Tinsukia district of Assam, which were impacted in the Baghjan oil well blowout in May 2020. Besides Justice Katakey as chairperson, the new committee will comprise Qamar Qureshi, a professor with the Wildlife Institute of India; Ritesh Kumar, director of the Wetlands International South Asia; Bedanga Bordoloi, a soil expert and G.S. Dang, a petroleum expert. The eight-member panel headed by retired Gauhati high court Judge Brojendra Prasad Katakey was formed on June 24, 2020, less than a month after OIL’s Well No. 5 at Baghjan in Tinsukia district had a blowout. The Baghjan blowout, explosion and fire that lasted for over five months in the natural gas well owned by public sector unit OIL left serious destruction on the ecology, besides causing damages estimated Rs 25,000 crore to the environment and biodiversity in and around Baghjan in Tinsukia district, an inquiry report prepared by a senior forest official had revealed this year in June. The report titled “Report on Damages to Environment, Biodiversity, Wildlife, Forest & Ecology on account of Blowout and Explosion at OIL Well number BGN-5, Baghjan, Tinsukia”, is prepared by the one-man inquiry committee headed by Mahendra Kumar Yadava, additional principal chief conservator of forest and chief wildlife warden, Assam. “This situation has come to be because the environmental clearance provided by the the Union ministry of environment, forest and climate change (MoEF&CC) to these projects clearly stated that there were no national parks and wildlife sanctuaries within 10km of the project sites,” the report stated. The court requested the committee to begin its work expeditiously and submit an interim report within a month on the remedial compensation OIL ought to pay. The court directed OIL to pay for the committee’s expenses. The 10-member panel was constituted by the NGT with Assam chief secretary as its chairman and OIL’s managing director as a member. Disappointed with the NGT order, Kolkata-based environmental activist Bonani Kakkar approached the apex court seeking the removal of OIL from a committee that would assess the blowout caused by OIL itself and suggest restorative steps. During the hearing, the Supreme Court while observing that “it will be breach of the principles of natural justice” if the managing director of Oil India Limited (OIL) becomes a member of a committee in any case related to Assam's Baghjan blowout incident, stayed the NGT order in July.

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