"Capping the oil wells, repairing the clogged pipes and cleaning up the oil spillage will take about two years," said Nagaland planning minister TR Zeliang. "But interest of the people affected by the spillage comes first."
Zeliang heads a five-member cabinet subcommittee that has been dealing with issues related to crude oil exploration in Nagaland. The subcommittee is scheduled to submit its recommendations to the government for inking a deal with an oil company for the decontamination and mining of hydrocarbon products.
Nagaland's oil dream had soared after Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) struck oil in Wokha district after a survey started in 1973. The oil major began extracting crude there in March 1981 but was asked to leave in March 1994 following protests from local pressure groups.
These groups said ONGC and Nagaland's geology and mining department had not consulted local stakeholders before drilling as mandated by customary Naga land rights. In the 17 years since, crude oil began oozing from some of the abandoned oil wells, polluting water and affecting land fertility, besides posing serious health hazards in Changpang and Tssori villages.
Ecologists and pollution control officials later marked a 4 sq km area as the most hit. ONGC, however, claimed it had adopted all safety measures while suspending operations and blamed miscreants for tampering with the oils to harvest a ‘valuable commodity' (oil) and causing spillage.
Meanwhile, two scientists from a Dehradun-based institute will visit Changpang-Tssori to study the extent of the damage.