Oil Extraction in Manipur: The Risks

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By Jinine Laishramcha

The Impact Assessment Report of Ogoniland, Nigeria by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2011 revealed the tragic history of the pollution and its sever hazardous impact to human being and environment caused by the oil spill and oil well fires. The Ogoniland community is exposed to petroleum hydrocarbons in outdoor air and drinking water, sometimes at elevated concentrations. The Assessment confirmed that it will take 25-30 years to restore a normal condition of contaminated land, groundwater, surface water, sediment, vegetation, air pollution, public health, and the world giant oil company SHELL will compensate millions of dollars.

In Manipur about 4000 square km of possible hydrocarbon deposition in the southwest of the state was located by ONGC somewhere before 2003. In July 2010, Jubilant Energy Private Ltd was rewarded the Production Share Contracts by Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, India and in September 2010 the Petroleum Exploration License was granted by Manipur Government.

Civil Societies of Manipur have started showing their concerns about drilling and extraction activities since early this year. So far there have been about four or five meetings and protests held against the new project by taking resolutions to discontinue the present works of Jubilant and its sub contractors.

The Impact

The two Environmental Impact Assessment reports of the two blocks prepared by SENES Consultants India Private Ltd for Jubilant Company mentioned more or less possible damages to biological environment, forest and fauna system, aquatic ecology, water resources, demographic lay out, ambient air, etc. A common fear of oil extraction that least mentioned in assessment reports is the long term impact on water resources  of surface and ground that will be affected by drilling activities, release of saline water,  accidental crude oil spillage, etc. One very important potential pollutant known as formation water is not highlighted in the EIA reports. When crude oil is produced, this pollutant comes out along as it is inherent to the oil. This is highly rich in mineral, hot and highly saline hence, unsuitable for human use and endemic forest and fauna system. The contaminated water with various pollutants will cease the cultivation, farming and forest and fauna, drinking water and other associated utilities in the southwest part of Manipur.

According to Dr. R. K. Ranjan, environmentalist, “The area where two blocks lie is within the Indo Burma mega biodiversity hotspot zone. The region is very rich of endemic species of both flora and fauna and is the second largest riverine of North East India. Even just on the way of our recent trip to the Barak riparian early this July, we came across various species of known and unknown.”  He commented, “These geophysical facts and botanical and biological systems are not studied sufficiently. Medicinal plants, dense bamboo jungles and other forest resources are very abundant source of the sustainable development that the future we want. As an alternative economy of such resources that also fulfill the principle and justice of sustainable development will be best argument to avoid the oil and gas extraction.”

Here draws a local relevancy of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, known as Rio+20 which took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012. It emphasizes leaving a liveable world to our children and grandchildren, with greener, safer economy and wiser consumption of energy. Sustainability calls for a decent standard of living for everyone today without environmental deterioration and without compromising the needs of future generation. The above development campaign triggers concern about risk and reward; how much the state and local peoples will be benefited and how large and intense the adverse impact will be on the environment and human. It is important that how far the green forests that will be destroyed by the project is contributing to oxygen production and mitigating climate change, and how much carbon emission from the extraction process and by consumption of the fossil fuel from Manipur will add to global climate change and warming.

Human Rights and Judiciary; In fact the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples 2007 upholds the principle and spirit of the indigenous peoples’ rights. There are a good few Articles in the Declaration that highlight the relevancy of the issue of the hydrocarbon and other natural resources. For instance, Article 26 and 32 that underline the right of indigenous peoples to the lands and other resources which they have traditionally owned and free and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands and resources. Nevertheless the challenge is huge, may be because of the non-implementation of the tribal empowerment under Sixth Schedule of Indian Constitution in Manipur.

The common Article 1 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights codified that “All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Again, it is not applicable to India as this portion of the International Legal Instrument is reserved by her despite she has become a state party since 1979 to the two covenants.  However, Article 51 (c) of Indian Constitution shows willingness of moral obligation towards the respecting the international laws and treaties.

The state government also has very little judicial strength to entertain the hydrocarbon production share on their own soil. The Association of Natural Gas and … vs Union of India (Uoi) And Ors. on 25 March, 2004 (Supreme Court) displayed a precedent with following terms:

1. Natural Gas including Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is a Union subject covered by Entry 53 of List I and the Union has exclusive legislative competence to enact laws on natural gas.

2. The States have no legislative competence to make Saws on the subject of natural gas and liquefied natural gas under Entry 25 of List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.

Even the space for public and civil societies that will come through process of public hearing may also be exempted as per 7 (i), (iii) and (v) of EIA Notification 2006.

The conflict

The adverse impact could not limit in the indigenous land and within present Indian territory only; it is beyond and has the similar character of the international water rights and conflict. The saline (formation) water, accidental oil spillage and frequent small scale leakages, swage, surface runoff, drilling cuts  and other hazardous oil contents will come down through  the creeks and drainages to the rivers namely Barak,  Makru, Tuivai and Irang, and will carry down to riparian of Surma and Kushiyara of Bangladesh through Assam. The flow will be buoyed up by monsoon pour in the hilly terrain of Manipur, thus the hazardous impact will be spread relatively in quicker and shorter period of time in the downstream of Barak valley in Assam and then lengthen stretch in Bangladesh. The hope for flood control in Barak valley with upcoming Tipaimukh Dam will also very likely dry up.  The existing dynamics though dormant between New Delhi and Dhaka as a result of the proposed Tipaimukh Dam, may turn into conflict with the forthcoming oil extraction. A political shift in Dhaka with changing dynamics within the Awami League cannot be brushed away and besides if there is the return of Bangladesh National Party, a highly disputable and tensed situation may resurface.

By assessing the future tendency and past attitudes and the reality of armed groups in Manipur, peace building and guaranty of security is rather exposed to high risk of inter ethnic conflict. There is already a volatile situation with rumors of an unofficial bargain by certain groups doing the rounds, which may explode into violent conflict anytime. The emergence of interested armed groups in the bargaining line will soon aggravate the already compounded challenges and tensions. The large presence of the army and paramilitary forces with impunity provided by the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958  and their contentious activities will continue to take part in the destabilizing the normalcy and security of the peoples. Their frequent acts in the incidents of the human rights violations and their alleged nexus in inter ethnic or fraternal killings may be active again.  The wisdom is to realize how much oil extraction and its issue will cost to the peoples and the state.

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