Oil spills have, of late, become a common occurrence in India. In past 1 year we have seen 3 such cases in Mumbai and Goa, results of accidental colliding of tankers and leakages.
But there is (almost unnoticed to the rest of the country) one massive oil spill that nobody can call an accident: crude oil spillage from an abandoned oil rig in 2 villages called Champang and Tssori in Wokha district of Nagaland(north east India). Guess how long the spillage has continued? 16 years! And guess who did it? None other than one of India’s Navratna(9 star) companies: the Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC).
16 years of unabated oil spill, in a district that has poor infrastructure, poor healthcare and very low per capita income(Rs 13,000 approx). Imagine the plight of the villagers, therefore, whose arable land is damaged by the crude oil spill and whose drinking water is contaminated. In a hill district like Wokha, there isn’t vast stretches of cultivable land. Imagine the struggle of people whose small plots of land is also damaged, ending their ability to grow food.
Besides losing on food, villagers are also having health problems that include stomach, skin ailments and also asthma.
Now let’s look at the profile of ONGC. One of the largest and richestof all Indian companies, the ONGC has an annual profit of about Rs.16,738,000,000 rupees (over 343 million us dollars) That’s nearly 10 times the entire yearly budget of entire Nagaland state(Rs 602,000,000).
And yet, the company had to be dragged to court to pay compensation even 16 years after it caused an environmental disaster and risking lives of hundreds.
ONGC produced 10.22 lakh (1.22million) tons of crude oil from Changpang oil field during 1981 to 1994 on the production rate of approx. 250 tons per day. In May 1994, the company halted production following opposition from underground organizations. The oil spill began soon after that and has continued ever since.
The court case (a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed by Mhonlumo Kikon – a native of Wokha, representing Chamgpang village and Tssori village in Wokha district of Nagaland, against the crude oil giant and the governments.
The accused includes the ONGC, (basin Manager, Cinnamara, Jorhat in Assam) Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, the State of Nagaland, the Nagaland Geology and Mining Department, Nagaland Forest Department, the Nagaland State Pollution Control Board and the Union of India represented by the Ministry of Petroleum, besides the Natural Gas and the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India.
In the PIL at least Rs 1000 crore has been demanded as consolidated compensation to the villagers for environmental, agricultural and economic damage allegedly caused by the 16 years of unabated oil spillage from the ONGC’s abandoned oil rigs.
The hearing started this week (13th of Sep), and on the first day, Guwahati High Court has directed the counsels of the petitioners to issue notices to the stated respondents.
The next hearing is expected to come up in the first week of November. Hopefully, the case will not go on forever and hopefully, at the end if the residents of Tssori and Champang will get justice.
But meanwhile, there is question that keeps pinching one like a stubborn thorn: if this is how a responsible public sector company operates, what can one expect from a private sector company?