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Fire, Fire Everywhere at Baghjan: Tears of Assam

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Author: Ms. Monalisa Gogoi

(The Author has Fifteen plus years of experience as journalist. Reported for various national and local dailies like The Pioneer, Hindustan Times.com. Contributed for various national level magazines like Rural and Marketing, The Sunday Indian, India Today, Travel Plus, etc. Served as Editor of The Sunday Indian Assamese. Presently serving as Bureau Chief of Northeast for Indian Observer Post. Working as Project Head of HealthDNA.)

 

Assam’s tryst with oil goes back to 1867, barely seven years after the first oil well in the world was discovered in Pennsylvania, USA. That place in Assam is known as Digboi and Digboi has the distinction of being Asia’s first refinery since 1901. In a nutshell, crude oil and gas has brought lots of fame and prosperity to Assam , especially in and around Digboi town.

 

 

But recently that very same crude oil and natural gas has brought lots of tears to common people in an area called Baghjan, which is roughly 50 km from Digboi. An oil and gas well operated by public sector unit Oil India Ltd has been spewing massive flame, obnoxious gas and destruction for the last 14 days. Situation has become so desperate that Indian Air Force and Indian Army have been put on standby to provide help to civil administration.

 

The location of this area is of strategic importance to Indian security forces. Barely 73 km from the Baghjan oil field, Indian Air force has famed Sukhoi squadron at Chabua air force base with an eye on China. Then there is a big Indian army camp at Dinjan which is barely 66 km from Baghjan oil field. The Indian Air Force station at Chabua and Indian Army camp at Dinjan are vital for quick and adequate response from Indian side should there be any misadventure from China .

 

Also this entire area was and still remains a hotbed of various insurgent organizations, ULFA being the most prominent one. Insurgent organizations have a long history of fishing in troubled waters and any discontent among local people in and around Baghjan oil field may prove to be ready fodder for these insurgent organizations.

 

Discontent is brewing high among affected people for lack of prompt and timely response from both government of Assam and Oil India Ltd. India army had to be deployed along with paramilitary forces to provide security to Oil India officials from several thousand affected villagers in and around Baghjan.

 

Meanwhile, various organisations like All Assam Students Union, Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuva Chatra Parishad,Lachit Sena,Krishak Mukti Sangram Samittee,Nagarik Samaj have strongly condemned the neglecting attitude of Oil India Ltd.Criticizing the role of Assam government, AASU general secretary Lurin Jyoti Gogoi says" The unfortunate incident that took place at Baghjan is only because Oil India Ltd has no skilled person at its disaster management department . And we will never allow to play with the lives of common people and its biodiversity".

 

On the other hand, Assam CM Sarbananda Sonowal says” the state government is committed to the local people and will compensate for their loss. The central govt is also taking the matter seriously and Prime Minister, Petroleum Minister both are in regular touch regarding this incident”

 

Already 3 Singapore based top experts from Alert Disaster Management are camping in Assam to help Oil India teams on ground to control the ravaging inferno at Baghjan. As per reports, few other experts from the USA and Canada are also arriving to bring the situation under control.

 

Several PILs(public interest litigation) have been filed at Guwahati High court against Oil India ltd and its contractor John Energy Ltd for violating safety norms and endangering flora and fauna in an ecologically sensitive area. Another application has been filed at Guwahati High Court for suo moto cognizance of the Baghjan blowout incident and order an appropriate judicial investigation. The Assam government has also ordered an additional chief secretary level investigation into the incident

 

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