Sitting on one of India's richest hydrocarbon reserves can be uncomfortable. Around 3,000 people of Changpang, Tssori and a few nearby villages in Nagaland's Wokha district have learnt it the hard way.
Crude oil seepage from abandoned wells for 17 years has hit the soil and groundwater
and consequently, people's health and the local economy.
The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) struck oil in the area in 1981 and began extracting crude from 11 wells. But the locals and militant groups questioned the agreement between the state and ONGC, alleging that the mandatory consent of local bodies was not taken.
In March 1994, the state had to stop the operations, despite earning a royalty of R33.3 crore since March 1981.
ONGC capped the wells, but lack of maintenance and tampering of the equipment by miscreants led to seepage.
In August 2010, state geology and mining director HK Chishi reported "heavy spillage" and the state pollution control board marked 4sqkm as affected. The state asked ONGC to clean up the mess, which offered to send a team. But a cabinet sub-committee objected, saying they hadn't received "all the correspondence between the mining department and ONGC".
"No one seems sincere about solving the problem," said M Yanathung Ngullie, president of Changpang Land Owners' Union. "The local economy, which depended on traditional jhum cultivation (which involves slashing and burning vegetation on hill slopes), has gone for a toss. With all the seepage, people are scared of wildfire."
Many are complaining of eye burning and uterus and kidney complications, which were unheard of earlier, he said. "And in these 17 years, indigenous plants have been swamped by species like lantana and mimosa which, ecologists say, are a precursor to desertification."
Changpang gaonburah (village chieftain) Myingthungo N Kithan, 50, is fed up with appealing to the government. "I have asked the government to erase Changpang from the map if it cannot help us," he said.
State chief secretary Lalthara said: "The matter has been referred to a cabinet subcommittee."
Dice Foundation, a Kohima-based NGO, has filed a PIL at Gauhati high court. The case will be heard on Monday. "We have sought compensation of R1,000crore. We hope justice is done," said Mmhonlumo Kikon, chief of the NGO.
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