PIL seeking Rs. 1000 crore compensation filed for oil spill in Nagaland

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IMPHAL, Sept 12: A Public Interest Litigation, PIL, has been filed in the Gauhati High Court against the ONGC, the Government of Nagaland and other relevant authorities in matters of an unattended oil spill in Chanpang and Tssori villages in Wokha district of Nagaland seeking compensation worth Rs. 1000 crore for the damages caused.

The PIL filed an application under Article 226 of the Constitution of India for the issuance of a Writ in the nature Mandamus or any other appropriate writ, order or direction of like nature to deal with the emergent situation.

It said large scale oil spillage in the Chanpang and Tssori Villages in Wokha district of the Nagaland due to wilful negligence of the authorities to take appropriate steps to stop the oil spillage from oil rigs and oil wells situated there has caused extensive damages to the environment as well as the livelihood of the people in these villages who basically depend on agriculture.

It said “failure and inaction on the part of the authorities to prevent and protect the environmental and ecological balance in the Chanpang and Tssori Villages in Wokha district of the Nagaland”. 

It also sought the enforcement of legal and fundamental rights of the people of Chanpang and Tssori Villages in Wokha district of the Nagaland.

It also called for “a writ in the nature of mandamus or any other appropriate writ/order/direction may not be issued against the respondents by declaring the actions/inactions of the respondents as illegal and unconstitutional.

It also sought the court to direct the Government of Nagaland not to enter into any negotiation, understanding or permission with the ONGC or other companies (Indian and Foreign) working on oil exploration/extraction or production to explore/extract oil in the State of Nagaland till environmental impact of oil spill affected area is redressed.

also pleaded to prosecute and initiate criminal proceedings against the officials of the ONGC as well as the State Government and Central Government which are responsible for such damages, and to pay a consolidated compensation of the villagers of Tssori and Changpang amounting Rs 1000 crores for causing loss for four decades by contaminating their arable lands by the oil spillage from the abandoned oil wells which is impossible for cultivation and also for air and water pollution leading to various health hazards in the particular area.

It also wanted the suspension of inclined drillings in the surrounding areas as well as all inclined drillings encroaching the jurisdiction of the State of Nagaland till the economic and environmental impact of oil spill is redressed.

The main petitioners Mmhonlumo Kikon, of Bayavu Hill, Kohima, Nagaland and Johnny Lotha, of Tssori village, Wokha district, Nagaland, said they came to know about the environmental and ecological damages caused by the oil spill in Chanpang and Tssori Villages in Wokha district of the Nagaland.

The had earlier approached the authorities concern to address these affected people and to take necessary measures to stop such further oil spill in these particular areas. Because of the inaction, wilful negligence on the part of the respondent authorities to take necessary measures, the instant application is being instituted by the petitioners in the interest of public and on behalf of the victim / oil spill affected people of the Chanpang and Tssori Villages in Wokha district of Nagaland seeking for appropriate writs / orders / and/or directions on the respondent authorities and more particularly the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (hereinafter referred to as ONGC) which is arrayed as respondent No. 1 in the instant case for a direction to take immediate measures to stop further oil spill, to clean up the oil spillage from the affected area  and to rehabilitate the affected villagers and provide them adequate compensation (which includes all the damage of the affected people such as physical damage, e
conomical damage etc. by the oil spill) and further to desist them from destroying the environment / ecological balance of the land in question, fresh air, water-body located in the particular area. The petitioners further stated that the villagers of the above mentioned villages being citizens of India are entitled to all the rights and privileges guaranteed under the Constitution of India.

The petitioners stated that in pursuance of a permit given by the State of Nagaland, Oil Exploration in Nagaland first started in the Changpang and Tssori area of Wokha district in the year 1971 by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

The Government of Nagaland permitted the extraction of oil and natural gas to the ONGC only in the year 1981 however, the State Government withdrew permission in May 1994 and thereafter, ONGC shut down its operations/exploration in the Tssori and Changpang area.

They said about 1.02 metric million tonnes of crude oil were extracted between 1981 to 1994, however, the ONGC has not disclosed the quantity of oil extracted during exploration in the period 1971 to 1981.

They stated that without any proper precautionary and preventive measures the ONGC abandoned the establishment hurriedly in Changpang and Tssori villages without following the international legislation guiding, proper abandonments, decommissioning, remediation, reclamation and consolidation protocols.

They further stated that there has been oil spill from the rigs in Changpang and Tssori villages since 1994 as the capping of the oil rigs have not been capped and closed properly by the ONGC. As a result of which, health conditions of many  people are affected from the continuous  exposure to the oil spill for more than last 17 years and even the newborn in the surrounding areas are born deformed or handicapped and at present more than hundreds of  people have serious chronic disease of various kinds.

The petitioners further stated that the ONGC drilled 29 wells in the Changpang area during the year 1973-1994. Out of these, 21 wells in Changpang area were oil bearing and 2 wells were gas bearing. After stopping such further exploration the ONGC ought to have capped the wells properly to prevent any future oil spill.

However, as the capping has not been done properly by the ONGC the oil has spilled out all over the surface of the area in question due to pressure from below. It is pertinent to mention herein that the ONGC has admitted to such oil spill but has put the Government of Nagaland as well the affected villages to a ransom in the guise of a condition that the cleanup of the oil leakage will be done only after the ONGC is allowed to start new operations in the Changpang-Tssori reserves.

The petitioners stated that the villagers of Changpang and Tssori Villages in Wokha district of Nagaland mainly depend upon the agriculture and horticulture produces through cultivation for their livelihood adding that as the oil spillage get spread over and contaminate the soil and water, it has become impossible for the villagers to go for effective and productive cultivation on account of the contamination of the soil and water by such leakage, as such the villagers are facing acute economic hardships and a threat to their livelihood.

They further stated that as per the version of the ONGC the area in question has an estimated ‘in place’ geological reserve of 17 million tonnes of oil with a recoverable reserve of approx. 250 tonnes per day. The ONGC had produced 10.22 lakhs tonnes of crude oil from Changpang oil field during 1981 to 1994 on the production rate of approx. 250 tonnes per day.

The petitioners added that the oil spill in Changpang have severely affected the surface resources and a wide range of sub-surface organisms which are linked in a complex food chain that include human food resources. Oil spill also causes harm to the environment and ecology in the aforementioned area thereby directly affecting the wildlife and their habitats. The toxic that is released from spilled oil also affects human, plants and other aquatic plants.

They also said hydrocarbons present in the crude oil can cause cancer (eg., the PAHs or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons); other ailments in both humans and animals.

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