Gauhati HC fines Assam forest department Rs 10,000 for non-compliance
The court had directed the respondents to also mention in their affidavits on whether a Supreme Court order of 2017 asking OIL to carry out a biodiversity impact assessment study through Assam State Biodiversity Board was followed before permission was given to drill at DSNP by Centre in May this year.Updated: Oct 20, 2020, 23:58 IST
The Gauhati High Court on Tuesday fined the Assam forest department Rs 10,000 for failing to file an affidavit in connection with a public interest litigation (PIL) on grant of permission to Oil India Limited (OIL) to drill for hydrocarbons under the Dibru Saikhowa National Park (DSNP).
A division bench comprising Chief Justice (acting) NK Singh and Justice Manish Choudhury was hearing the PIL seeking the court’s intervention against the Centre’s permission to OIL to drill inside DSNP by doing away with public hearings under the draft environment impact assessment (EIA) notification, 2020.
During the last hearing on September 30, the court had issued notices to all 14 respondents including the Centre and Assam government to file affidavits before the next date of hearing.
The court had directed the respondents to also mention in their affidavits on whether a Supreme Court order of 2017 asking OIL to carry out a biodiversity impact assessment study through Assam State Biodiversity Board was followed before permission was given to drill at DSNP by Centre in May this year.
“On Tuesday, the Assam forest department, one of the respondents, sought more time to file the affidavit. The court immediately imposed a penalty of Rs 10,000 on them for failing to file the affidavit. Though the amount is small, it sends the message that the court has taken the issue seriously,” said Debajit Kumar Das, advocate for the petitioners Mrinmoy Khataniar and Amar Jyoti Deka.
The matter has now been fixed for hearing on November 19 for consideration of stay of the environmental clearance given to OIL to drill for hydrocarbons under DNSP.
On May 11, the Union forest, environment and climate change ministry had given environmental clearance for extension drilling and testing of hydrocarbons at seven locations by OIL under DNSP in Tinsukia district of Assam.
Spread over 340 sq km, Dibru-Saikhowa is one of the five national parks in Assam. The park, which is also a biosphere reserve, is home to 36 mammal species including tiger, Gangetic dolphin, feral horses etc. and 382 bird species.
Concerns about OIL’s drilling plan soon emerged on social media platforms after the company published an advertisement in newspapers mentioning the environment ministry’s clearance for the project.
Reacting to the apprehensions, OIL had clarified in May that the company won’t operate inside the national park and the drilling will have no impact on the area as operation would be conducted through extended reach drilling (ERD).
On Monday, the petitioners had filed a fresh affidavit, which sought inclusion of a report submitted by a committee of experts to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) in July this year, to be added to the original PIL.
The report based on a case pending before NGT regarding compensation for blowout of a natural gas well at Baghjan (close to the DSNP) in May this year indicated that OIL had not complied with SC’s directives of 2017 regarding a biodiversity impact assessment for drilling at the national park.
“As on date there appears to be no such biodiversity impact assessment study, either prepared by Assam State Biodiversity Board or any other agency engaged by OIL, on record, till date,” the report stated.