GUWAHATI, June 14 - While the damage caused by the Baghjan gas well blowout and fire to Dibru Saikhowa National Park and Maguri Motapung Beel (a wetland and Important Bird Area site close to the national park) is still being assessed, environmentalists are worried that the wetland has already suffered grave damage that could take years to recover.
�The Maguri Beel has obviously borne the brunt of the gas-condensate leakage and also the blaze that is still raging. A panel is assessing the situation, and water and soil samples of both the wetland and the national park have been sent for testing. We have formed several teams and they are gathering materials from different locations in the affected areas. We expect to get a clearer picture of the damage in the next few days,� MK Yadava, Chief Wildlife Warden, Assam, told The Assam Tribune.
Another forest official said that with the wind now blowing towards the south, the inferno�s impact on the national park could lessen to some extent. Carcasses of a Gengetic river dolphin, fish, and birds have been recovered from the wetland in the past
Local conservationist Binanda Hatimuria said the wetland and its peripheral areas had been covered with an oily substance and unless removed immediately, the wetland�s ecology would suffer long-term damage. Much of the grassland has been burnt after the fire, he added.
Meanwhile, WWF India has urged the Assam government to initiate immediate steps to restore the habitats in and around Dibru Saikhowa National Park and Maguri Motapung Beel. It also requested the government to take action against those responsible for the irreparable damage to the environment and people invoking the relevant provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.
Urging the government not to twist ESZ (eco-sensitive zone) norms to allow industrial activities near protected wildlife habitats, WWF India said the ESZ of Dibru Saikhowa National Park was notified to an extent of zero kilometre to 8.7 kilometres, and this Baghjan incident has once again proven the imminent danger of having a zero kilometre ESZ around protected areas (PAs).
�This accident and its catastrophic impact on the biodiversity of the area, affecting ecosystem services and related livelihood of people, reinforces the need to have carefully considered demarcations of ESZ around PAs as required under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986,� it said.
Conservationists have been bemoaning the tweaking of ESZ as well as EIA (environment impact assessment) norms by governments in recent years to accommodate industrial activities near wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, which they said was greatly undermining the interests of prime wildlife habitats.
�Industry-friendly ESZ and EIA regulations make clear the unabashed agenda of the government to destroy our remaining forests. The government must have a relook on this in view of the recent disturbing developments in the Dibru Saikhowa and Dehing Patkai areas. It is shocking that EIAs are nowadays conducted by consultants on behalf of oil companies,� an environmental activist said.