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OIL facing people�s ire at Baghjan

By Ron Duarah

BAGHJAN (TINSUKIA), June 10 - Anger is all pervading in the greater Baghjan area, a day after the Baghjan 5 oilwell �caught� fire around 1 o�clock on Tuesday afternoon, which quickly spread towards the highly eco-sensitive Maguri Beel, charring everything on its way. Locals in about half a dozen villages across both sides of the water body now want petroleum exploration to stop in the area.

The Tinsukia district AASU unit has already imposed a stoppage to all oil exploration activity in the Tinsukia district, says the unit�s president Binoy Dubey and secretary, Samar Gohain. Speaking to The Assam Tribune on the banks of the Maguri Beel here this afternoon, the Tinsukia AASU anchalik secretary, Satyajit Borgohain said the people of the area are appalled that there could be such neglect of safety measures in oil exploration works by a public sector undertaking. �Its even more painful for us that this is happening in a highly-sensitive ecological area which is so close to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park. He showed this reporter a photo of a dead flying squirrel, and claimed that the animal died because of the fire yesterday. The flying squirrel is said to be an endangered species.

To this, local youth leader Jintu Borgohain said the fire has also caused the death to lots of wild and domestic animals, all of which are being documented by the youths. He added that about 20 human dwellings have been totally razed to the ground near the oilwell yesterday.

Local Congress leaders Pronab Baruah and Rajkumar Nila Netra Neog said the Baghjan tragedy has once again shown the importance for the need of a professional social and safety audit on all activities of Oil India Limited. Baruah said OIL�s safety record leaves much to be desired, especially when dealing with oilfield disasters. He pointed to another oil rig about 400 metres west of the Maguri Beel bridge, and said that oil installation could be the next ticking bomb.

While OIL harps on relief and rehabilitation in its press notes, locals here are in no mood to listen to such assurances. They want OIL to close shop. That of course may not be possible, but emotions run high here. Worse, neither political leaders nor OIL officials have gathered courage to talk to these people, even as the Tinsukia district bureaucrats are treading carefully, given the sensitivities.

Among the younger generation here, mostly affiliated to either AASU, All Assam Muttuck Yuva Chatra Sanmilan and ATTSA, the general feeling is that OIL has let the people down. Considering that the Baghjan area, with 31 oilwells is a major revenue earner for the company. The Baghjan gas reserves yield natural gas at very high pressures, which ironically is also a safety hazard.

The area also has about 60 small tea growers. One such tea grower, Kanchan Moran, said his plantation has been burnt by the fire, along with those of several other small tea gardens. The small tea growers now face a bleak future.

If they face a bleak future, so do hundreds of agriculturists here. Hundreds of bighas of farmlands on the east face of the Maguri Beel have been charred, and now is covered by an oily soot, giving out a sharp stench of burnt diesel. The once verdant landscape now appears like a war-ravaged zone. All is lost for the locals. They now want to be left alone.

There is also bad news that certain southern streams of the nearby Brahmaputra now have just dead fish. This was confirmed by a fisherman today. He said he had to go towards the Siang side on the Brahmaputra�s north bank to catch and sell some fish today. He expects his hardship to only increase in the coming days, even as he tries his best to maintain his family of four at the Guijan Ghat nearby. The Baghjan fire has caused untold misery to atleast 25,000 people, and this figure is set to rise in the coming days. OIL has a lot to explain.

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