Baghjan fire
Baghjan fire.

The Baghjan inferno continues to roar. It is one month since the blowout occurred at well no 5 at Baghjan oilfield in Tinsukia district when a Gujarat-based private company was engaged in workover operations. The first mishap was followed by a much greater one when a Singapore-based company named M/S Alert Disaster Control was called in to control the blowout.

Tragically for the people of Baghjan and Assam as a whole, the so-called experts from Singapore only proved to be only master disaster creators. Soon after the foreign ‘experts’ joined hands with the Oil India Ltd (OIL) officials, on June 9 the well turned into a raging inferno with fire leaping to a height of over 300 feet in the air.

Struck with sheer panic, residents of several villages began to flee to safer places miles away from the inferno. Still worse, within hours the entire region began experiencing earthquake-like tremors on regular intervals of 15 to 20 minutes. This added threat caused a few more thousands to flee even in the dead of the night.

The inferno continues to blaze, though reportedly with slightly lesser intensity. Meanwhile, the OIL authorities have made some common-place statements like it would take a few days to bring the inferno under control. Such statements make no sense. History holds testimony to the fact that even the biggest of life-killing fires, including the massive London Fire, were finally doused. Likewise, everybody knows that the Baghjan fire would also be doused someday.

Meanwhile, eminent geo-scientist and oil/gas well specialist of international stature Dr Prodip Saikia has levelled charges of serious lapses on the part of OIL in the matter of maintenance of the Baghjan well.   He alleged that such lapses led to the flow of natural gas-condensate beyond control.

Dr Saikia is a former principal petroanalyst at Schlumberger Oilfield Services and also was a senior loganalyst at Halliburton Logging Services (HLS). In 2005, before the Baghjan project was commissioned, HLS logoanalyst team led by Dr Saikia carried out a high-tech study at the Baghjan well site for OIL. Talking to a section of the media, he asserted that it was incorrect to treat the Baghjan well as a gas well. He added that this led to initiating huge compromise by OIL in the safety mechanism arena.

Speaking in plain terms, Dr Saikia said, “In my assessment report I insisted strongly that it was not a gas well but a condensate – a highly volatile liquid gas – well. My reports that are still lying with OIL will say that it was a rig dominantly producing condensate but my findings were apparently ignored. Drilling and maintenance of condensate wells require extraordinary precaution compared to a general gas well.”

Dr has plainly put in public domain the serious charges referred to against OIL in respect of the inferno. It now the fundamental duty of the Centre and the state government to take serious note of the charges. In particular, the Centre should not look for a leeway as an escape route with a view to protecting some erring high-ups, past or present.

On the other hand, in an FIR dated 08-06-2020 lodged at Baghjan Police Station by a senior journalist cum environmentalist, mention has been made of the damage caused by the Baghjan fire to human beings as well as to aquatic and wildlife while immense harm being caused to the environment.

The complainant also referred to a press release issued by the OIL where it has admitted that the much needed ‘Blow out Preventer Arrangements’ were not made. The FIR also refers to a news report published by Asomiya Pratidin in its June 6 edition that makes mention  of five person in the region dying because of oil/gas leakage & pollution caused.

Since the Baghjan issue is a matter of immense public interest, the entire mishap needs to be probed by a person not lesser than a sitting High Court Judge to be assisted by a team of gas/oil experts of international status. On its part, OIL is duty-bound to refute Dr Saikia’s charges against the oil giant with evidence while establishing with all proof that the Baghjan well is a gas well and not a condensate well as claimed by Dr Saikia.

While Baghjan burns and thousands reel at shelter camps amidst flood, political heavyweights continue to blare volumes of meaningless rhetoric. During the recent visit to Baghjan by the Union Petroleum Minister and the Assam chief minister mountains of promises and assurances were doled out by the two leaders before the panic-struck people of Bahgjan.

Interestingly, future tense constitute the edifice of promises and assurance made by politician and more often than not, future tense in politics and money matters prove to be ‘cheat tense’, ‘fraud tense’, ‘thug tense’.

Meanwhile, high profile dramas are beginning to be enacted. The first such drama, the Pollution Control Board, Assam (PCBA) slapped a closure notice on OIL; next OIL roared about moving the High Court against the PCBA notice. Then came “hectic discussions” between the two sides resulting in PCBA withdrawing the notice. Now it is bonhomie although high-voltage rhetoric apparently rent the air. Facts are sometimes stranger than fiction.

In the second drama the National Green Tribunal (NGT) usurps the stage with a Rs 25 crore penalty slapped on OIL. One is reminded of the Bhopal disaster with justice continuing to elude the commoners even after several decades while none of the American officials of Union Carbide, a US Company, could be brought to book and punished. Hence, one may guess that this NGT-OIL drama may run for years, any decades in the courts

Meanwhile, with the on-set of monsoon, the annual festival of Assam – floods – have started playing havoc in Baghjan.

While justice for the people is the demand of the hour, it may be interesting to wait and watch if any high-up in the government, OIL or the two other companies related to the Baghjan disaster are finally booked and the law takes its own course. Indeed there are always leeways to ensure that the law does not take its course.


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