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SC stays NGT order forming committee on fire incident in Assam’s Baghjan oil well

The Supreme Court Thursday stayed a National Green Tribunal order constituting a fresh six-member committee to fix responsibility for the failures of the concerned individuals in the fire incident in Assam”s Baghjan oil well.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah issued notice to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Petroleum, Oil India and others while seeking their response on the appeal.

Expressing surprise at the NGT order, the top court said Oil India Ltd (OIL) was accused of polluting the wetlands, but its MD was made a member of the inquiry Committee.

“We are wholly disappointed by the manner in which the NGT has pushed this issue out of its hand. It”s the National Green Tribunal. It Should not have done this,” the bench said.

The top court stayed February 19 the NGT order which said OIL cannot disown its responsibility on the fire incident in Assam”s Baghjan oil well by shifting the blame on the contractor and constituted a fresh six-member committee to fix responsibility for the failures of the concerned individuals in the present incident.

The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by activist Bonani Kakkar challenging February 19 order.

Well number 5 at Baghjan in Tinsukia district, had been spewing gas uncontrollably and it caught fire on June 9 last year, killing two of OIL”s fire fighters on the site.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice A K Goel had said it “prima facie” agrees that there was failure of OIL in taking safety precautions and there is need for ensuring that such incidents do not recur.

“We direct this aspect to be gone into by a six-member Committee headed by the Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in consultation with the DG Hydrocarbon and DG Mines Safety, DG Oil Industry Safety and PESO (Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization), Chief Controller of Explosives, New Delhi within three months,” the NGT bench had said.

The said Committee may review the situation and take appropriate remedial measures, including fixing responsibility for the failures of the concerned individuals in the present incident, the NGT said.

“It may also lay down the road map for ensuring compliance of safety protocols by all similar installations. Effective execution of such road map may be ensured by the Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas. The Committee may also suitably take into consideration the observations in the reports of the Committee earlier appointed,” it said.

With regard to the issue of accountability for the past compliances and the remedial action, the NGT had also formed a seven-member joint committee comprising MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forest), CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board), State PCB, State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) Assam, Chief Wildlife Warden, Assam, Member Secretary, Biodiversity Board, Assam and Member Secretary, State Wetland Authority Assam.

“Last aspect is assessing the damage to the environment and remedial restoration plan, including Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, the Maguri-Motapung Wetland.

“We direct this aspect to be looked into and remedial measures planned by the ten-member Committee headed by the Chief Secretary, Assam, nominees of MoEF&CC and CPCB, Assam Wetland Authority, State Biodiversity Board of Assam, SEIAA Assam, State PCB, Chief Wildlife Warden Assam, District Magistrate, Tinsukia, and Managing Director, OIL,” the bench had said.

The tribunal had said that while floor level compensation can be directed to be paid even on some guesswork, higher compensation claims require adjudication, based on evidence of loss.

“As already observed, in absence of relevant data, we are unable to determine the claims for higher compensation, beyond the amounts already paid or conceded by the OIL.

“It is made clear that this order will not debar any victim of the occurrence who is aggrieved by denial of compensation or inadequacy of compensation to take remdies for such claim before any appropriate forum in accordance with law,” the NGT had said.

“A public notice of crux of the order may be given at a prominent place in the office of the District Magistrate, Tinsukia and at some prominent place near the Campus of the Establishment in English as well as in Assamese, the bench said.

The NGT on June 24, 2020 had constituted a committee headed by former high court judge B P Katakey to look into the matter and submit a report.

The order had come on a plea filed by activist Bonani Kakkar and others alleging failure of the authorities in preventing the blowout of Baghjan oil well.

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