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Alert in Assam as 72-hr oil blockade begins

Three influential student groups in Assam launched a 72-hour oil blockade seeking a Rs 4 billion economic package from Oil India Limited (OIL).

india Updated: Apr 29, 2006 21:53 IST
Syed Zarir Hussain (IANS)
Syed Zarir Hussain (IANS)

A maximum security alert was sounded in Assam on Saturday to foil attempts by student protestors to halt crude oil and natural gas production in the region, officials said.

Three influential student groups in Assam launched a 72-hour oil blockade from 6 am seeking a Rs 4 billion economic development package from India's premier exploration firm, Oil India Limited (OIL).

"There has been no impact of the protest call given by student groups so far with crude oil production going on uninterrupted," OIL spokesman Nripen Bharali said on telephone from its headquarters at Duliajan in eastern Assam.

India produces about 30 million tonnes of crude oil annually, with Assam accounting for about five million tonnes.

OIL produces about 3.5 million tonnes of crude in Assam annually.

"The security forces are on alert to thwart any attempts by protestors to disrupt oil production," said Sanjoy Lohia, the Tinsukia district magistrate.

The All Assam Muttock Yuba Chattra Parishad, the All Tai Ahom Students' Union, and the All Assam Moran Students' Union have jointly called the strike, demanding a fair deal from OIL.

"Local unemployed youths are being deprived by OIL in jobs, contracts, besides the company not doing any community development works in the area where their oilfields are located," Dilip Bora, a student leader, said.

A police official said police have foiled attempts by groups of student protestors to enforce the oil blockade.

"Some protestors tried to forcibly enter oilfields in remote locations but we managed to control the situation," the police official said.

Assam has over 1.3 billion tonnes of proven crude oil and 156 billion cubic metres of natural gas reserves, an estimated 58 per cent of which are yet to be explored.

Assam currently produces about five million cubic meters of natural gas annually.

Frequent protests and strike calls by student groups and separatists have severely hampered crude oil production in the insurgency-hit state of 26 million people.

"Such strikes and attacks on oil installations by militants has a demoralising affect on the workforce and in turn adversely impacts on the overall production," another senior OIL official said requesting anonymity.

Terrorists in Assam have often targeted oil and gas installations -- at least a dozen crude and gas pipelines were blown up by rebels of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in the run up to this year's Republic Day celebrations Jan 26.

The ULFA in January slapped a whopping Rs 5 billion extortion demand on the state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).

The company refused to pay the extortion money. ONGC produces about 1.6 million tonnes of crude oil annually in Assam.

First Published: Apr 29, 2006 11:57 IST