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HC notice to Centre, State on OIL exploration

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GUWAHATI, Aug 17 - Admitting a PIL challenging the environmental clearance granted to energy major Oil India Limited (OIL) for drilling seven hydrocarbon wells in Dibru Saikhowa National Park, the Gauhati High Court today issued notice to the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Assam Government and the Assam forest department.

The PIL filed by Mrinmoy Khataniar raised a number of serious objections to the approval for hydrocarbon exploration, including exemption to public hearing, during the clearance process.

�We have made an elaborate case against the approval, as it grossly violates various environmental and wildlife protection laws and norms. The respondents have been asked to submit their reply by September 21. The hearing is scheduled for September 30,� advocate Debajit Kumar Das said.

OIL had earlier said that it would explore hydrocarbon inside Dibru Saikhowa through ERD (extended reach drilling) technology, which will enable it to drill for hydrocarbon without drilling inside the national park. It sparked widespread outrage from environmentalists who have also pointed out that the Baghjan gas well blowout near the national park had already done severe and long-term damage to the national park.

Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also directed the MoEF&CC and the Pollution Control Board, Assam (PCBA) to place before the NGT the report dealing with the specific questions raised by the appellant in connection with a case contesting the environmental clearance dated 11.05.2020 granted in favour of OIL for drilling seven wells for hydrocarbon exploration in Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

The NGT had earlier by order dated 20.07.2020 directed the MoEF&CC and the PCBA to submit a report dealing with the specific questions but those are yet to be placed before it.

The NGT also directed the Chairman and the Member Secretary of the PCBA to be personally present before it on the next date, i.e., September 17.

The case filed by Bimal Gogoi with advocate Ritwick Dutta reasoned that the MoEF&CC, while considering the case for grant for environmental clearance, had overlooked the fact that OIL had failed to comply with the direction of the Supreme Court issued vide order dated 07.09.2017 in I.A. No. 3934 in W.P. (C) No. 202 of 1995, requiring the company to carry out a biodiversity impact assessment study through the Assam State Biodiversity Board, as drilling operation was being undertaken in the national park; and that no public hearing was conducted which was mandatory under the EIA Notification, 2006.

It further contended that while the EIA notification permits exemption on certain grounds on a report submitted by the State PCB, in the present case no such report had been submitted and under the law, the Environment Assessment Committee (EAC) has no jurisdiction to grant exemption on its own.

It added that the EIA grossly undermined the risk to the project in the EIA report stating that the risk due to �blowout� is �negligible� and has only considered the �blowout� risk applicable to the United States and deliberately did not give data from India in general. Further, the respondents also suppressed the recent Baghjan well No. 5 blowout which has resulted in �massive irreparable injury to the environment and the people of the surrounding villages�.

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HC notice to Centre, State on OIL exploration

GUWAHATI, Aug 17 - Admitting a PIL challenging the environmental clearance granted to energy major Oil India Limited (OIL) for drilling seven hydrocarbon wells in Dibru Saikhowa National Park, the Gauhati High Court today issued notice to the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC), Assam Government and the Assam forest department.

The PIL filed by Mrinmoy Khataniar raised a number of serious objections to the approval for hydrocarbon exploration, including exemption to public hearing, during the clearance process.

�We have made an elaborate case against the approval, as it grossly violates various environmental and wildlife protection laws and norms. The respondents have been asked to submit their reply by September 21. The hearing is scheduled for September 30,� advocate Debajit Kumar Das said.

OIL had earlier said that it would explore hydrocarbon inside Dibru Saikhowa through ERD (extended reach drilling) technology, which will enable it to drill for hydrocarbon without drilling inside the national park. It sparked widespread outrage from environmentalists who have also pointed out that the Baghjan gas well blowout near the national park had already done severe and long-term damage to the national park.

Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also directed the MoEF&CC and the Pollution Control Board, Assam (PCBA) to place before the NGT the report dealing with the specific questions raised by the appellant in connection with a case contesting the environmental clearance dated 11.05.2020 granted in favour of OIL for drilling seven wells for hydrocarbon exploration in Dibru Saikhowa National Park.

The NGT had earlier by order dated 20.07.2020 directed the MoEF&CC and the PCBA to submit a report dealing with the specific questions but those are yet to be placed before it.

The NGT also directed the Chairman and the Member Secretary of the PCBA to be personally present before it on the next date, i.e., September 17.

The case filed by Bimal Gogoi with advocate Ritwick Dutta reasoned that the MoEF&CC, while considering the case for grant for environmental clearance, had overlooked the fact that OIL had failed to comply with the direction of the Supreme Court issued vide order dated 07.09.2017 in I.A. No. 3934 in W.P. (C) No. 202 of 1995, requiring the company to carry out a biodiversity impact assessment study through the Assam State Biodiversity Board, as drilling operation was being undertaken in the national park; and that no public hearing was conducted which was mandatory under the EIA Notification, 2006.

It further contended that while the EIA notification permits exemption on certain grounds on a report submitted by the State PCB, in the present case no such report had been submitted and under the law, the Environment Assessment Committee (EAC) has no jurisdiction to grant exemption on its own.

It added that the EIA grossly undermined the risk to the project in the EIA report stating that the risk due to �blowout� is �negligible� and has only considered the �blowout� risk applicable to the United States and deliberately did not give data from India in general. Further, the respondents also suppressed the recent Baghjan well No. 5 blowout which has resulted in �massive irreparable injury to the environment and the people of the surrounding villages�.

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