Since the colonial days Assam has been subjected to exploitation of its resources without the indigenous Assamese people getting any economic benefit for the same. A case in point is the tea industry. Assam was the original home of the alternative tea industry which the British had erected when they discovered that they could no longer import the brew from China. They appropriated enormous hectares of prime arable land to set up tea plantations which they jealously insulated, with the result that Assam’s rural sector derived no benefit at all. Though the product was made in Assam, it was sold in Bengal and London, and relevant offices and an auction centre were set up in Kolkata. While, through years of effort, Assam finally succeeded in setting up an auction centre at Guwahati, the all-important Tea Board office continues to operate from Kolkata. Similar has been the case with the petroleum sector and the nodal organization Oil India Limited. Assam too was the original home of the Indian petroleum industry, with Digboi having the honour of being the first oil town in the nation. But the truly historic milestone in the annals of this industry was the discovery in 1956 of huge reserves of crude oil at Nahorkatiya and Moran by engineers of the Burmah Oil Company (BOC), triggering as it did a series of oil explorations in other parts of the country.

To exploit the newly-discovered reserves, the Government of India partnered with the BOC and established a new company on February 18, 1959, christened as Oil India Private Ltd (OIL), with its operational headquarters at Duliajan in Upper Assam close to the oil extraction sites. It may be noted that, true to pattern, a refinery for the crude was set up in faraway Barauni, and it was only after agitation that Assam acquired a small refinery at Guwahati. Also, after the BOC had left, though the registered headquarters remained at Duliajan, the OIL set up its corporate office in Noida in the National Capital Region, and all too soon the latter became the decision-making entity, with the chairman-cum-managing director, as well as senior officers, being based there. Since the bulk of the OIL’s operations are in Assam, this was a patently dysfunctional administrative structure, as witnessed by the fact that senior-level officers were not immediately available to take decisions when a massive fire broke out in the oilfield at Baghjan which displaced hundreds. Reportedly, it has been the Baghjan disaster which has finally induced the Centre to ask the OIL to shift its corporate headquarters to Assam so that top company executives could stay close to key area of operation and closely monitor exploration and production activity, while coordinating with the State Government officials, and managing local stakeholders better, which is a logical move that should have been taken earlier!

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