SC stays NGT order on Assam's Baghjan oil well fire, says green panel must have 'some alacrity and concern' for environment

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New Delhi, Jul 1 (PTI) Observing that the National Green Tribunal(NGT) must have 'some alacrity and concern' for the environment, the Supreme Court on Thursday expressed dissatisfaction over its order in which a top official of Oil India Ltd was inducted into a panel set up to suggest remedial actions after assessing the environmental damage caused by the PSU following a major fire in Assam's Baghjan oil well.

The top court also stayed the order of the green panel.

'We are very dissatisfied with the manner the NGT has pushed the matter off its hands. It is the National Green Tribunal, it must have some alacrity and concern for the environment. We might decide it ourselves. We will hear you and reconstitute the committee--One Committee, which may be headed by a former Supreme Court judge and would comprise environmental experts. We will do that exercise here only', said a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and M R Shah.

'Till the next date of listing, there shall be a stay of the operation of the impugned judgment and order of the NGT dated February 19, 2021,' the bench said while issuing notice to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Ministry of Petroleum, Oil India(OIL) and others on the appeal against the NGT order.

The top court stayed the February 19 order of the NGT which said OIL cannot disown its responsibility over the fire in Assam's Baghjan oil well by shifting the blame on the contractor and had constituted a fresh six-member committee that had included the OIL chief to fix responsibility for the failures of the concerned individuals. The NGT order had come on a plea filed by activist Bonani Kakkar and others alleging the failure of the authorities in preventing the blowout of Baghjan oil well.

Senior advocate Siddharth Mitra, appearing on behalf of the petitioner activist Bonani Kakkar, told the top court that the initial committee had submitted a comprehensive report before the NGT: initially, a preliminary report which was followed by a progress report and, hence, the constitution of three new Committees will only delay the process.

He told the top court that for the determination of damages and compensation and for the restoration of the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and Wetland, a ten-member Committee has been constituted headed by the Chief Secretary, Assam in which the Managing Director of OIL has been inducted as a member.

The senior lawyer said that decision will be in breach of the principles of natural justice since the conduct of OIL is basically in issue and, hence, the Managing Director ought not to be a member of the Committee in any case.

Well number 5 at Baghjan in Tinsukia district, had been spewing gas uncontrollably and it caught fire on June 9 last year, killing two of OIL's fire fighters on the site.

A bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice A K Goel had said it 'prima facie' agrees that there was the failure of OIL in taking safety precautions and there is a need for ensuring that such incidents do not recur.

'We direct this aspect to be gone into by a six-member committee headed by the Secretary, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas in consultation with the DG Hydrocarbon and DG Mines Safety, DG Oil Industry Safety and PESO (Petroleum and Explosives Safety Organization), Chief Controller of Explosives, New Delhi within three months,' the NGT bench had said.

The said Committee may review the situation and take appropriate remedial measures, including fixing responsibility for the failures of the concerned individuals in the present incident, the NGT said.

With regard to the issue of accountability for the past compliances and the remedial action, the NGT had also formed another seven-member joint committee.

The last aspect is assessing the damage to the environment and remedial restoration plan, including Dibru-Saikhowa National Park, the Maguri-Motapung Wetland, the green panel said.

'We direct this aspect to be looked into and remedial measures planned by the ten-member Committee headed by the Chief Secretary, Assam, nominees of MoEF&CC and CPCB, Assam Wetland Authority, State Biodiversity Board of Assam, SEIAA Assam, State PCB, Chief Wildlife Warden Assam, District Magistrate, Tinsukia, and Managing Director, OIL,' the bench had said. PTI PKS SJK GSN GSN GSN

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