Sep 19, 2011

Nagalim: Oil Production Continues With Minimal Recompense

Oil exploration is continuing while the recompense remains abysmally low for the people who have been most affected by the lack of maintenance and clean-up processes of the spillages. The people of Nagaland continue to not benefit at all from the oil exploration in their lands whilst others make big profits.

Below is an article published by Asian Correspondent:

The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) fled Nagaland in May 1994 in the face of stiff opposition from both the people and militants. The oil exploration giant returned to the state a few years ago to resume operations, since a semblance of peace had apparently returned in the backdrop of the ongoing ceasefire between the insurgents and the Indian government.

In March 1994, ONGC was served with an ultimatum by the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) (NSCN-IM) demanding a payment of Rs 10 million for “extracting and exploiting a scarce resource of the Naga Republic”. The Naga Students’ Federation (NSF) too asked it to close down operations. The NSF’s argument was that under the provisions of Article 371 A of the Constitution, ownership of natural resources within Nagaland lay with the people, and hence ONGC had no right to extract crude from the oil fields of the state.

As the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Manmohan Singh stayed obsessed with double digit growth and the pink papers echoed the sentiment, ONGC’s resumption of operations in Nagaland in 2007 was seen as the beginning of a new era. But ground realities tell a different story. The NSF’s fears stand true: ONGC does not give a damn about the people. Manmohan Singh only wants oil to fuel his growth, the people are waste.

Around 3,000 people of Changpang and Tissori villages in the state’s Wokha district realised that crude oil seepage from abandoned wells for 17 years has hit the soil and groundwater and consequently, people’s health and the local economy. ONGC, at that point, had done its job – it capped the wells and exited. Maintenance of course went to hell.

And hell it slowly became. The state’s geology and mining director HK Chishi woke up in August 2010 and spoke of “heavy spillage” and the state pollution control board demarcated an area of 4 sq km as affected. The ONGC, mired in legal wrangles with the state government, had not cleaned up its act yet. Disgusted, Dice Foundation, a Kohima-based NGO, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) at the Gauhati High Court last week.

The court directed motion counsels representing the two villages to issue notices to ONGC and a number of departments of the government of India and Nagaland. The PIL was filed against ONGC, the Basin Manager of ONGC, Cinnamara in Jorhat, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the State of Nagaland, the Nagaland Geology and Mining Department, Nagaland Forest Department, the Nagaland State Pollution Control Board and the Union of India.

The PIL was filed by Mhonlumo Kikon and others, representing Changpang and Tssori. The two villages have sought Rs 10 billion (US$210 million) as consolidated compensation to the villagers for environmental, agricultural and economic damage caused by the 17 years of unabated oil spillage from the ONGC’s abandoned oil rigs. Someone needs to pay for environmental crimes. In this case, it needs to be ONGC and the others named in the PIL.

State-owned ONGC started survey work way back in 1973 in the Changpang area and struck oil in 1981. Nagaland is estimated to have 600 million tonnes of proven reserves of crude oil. ONGC has drilled 25 exploratory and 11 development wells since 1973. In all, 1.04 million tonnes of crude was extracted between March 1991 and May 1994. But when the stage was set for its return, the company wanted to cut its risks. In 2007, it struck a deal with Canada’s Canoro Resources Ltd for the sale of a 20-30 per cent stake in its exploration blocks in Nagaland. At that point, ONGC had six blocks in Nagaland – the deal was signed for five of these.

It is obvious who has so far made the most of the oil exploration. If that wasn’t enough, the response to a right to information (RTI) application revealed that ONGC has paid a royalty of Rs33.83 crore to the Nagaland government, but of that only Rs 67 lakh reached the villages, that too in 2003. According to an agreement between ONGC and the state, the oil company is to pay Rs 1 lakh (100,000) to Changpang and Tissori as village development fund. In an era where top executives get paid in lakhs, an amount of Rs 1 lakh for an entire village is a sordid joke on its people.

It is obvious that none of the parties named in the PIL have learnt their lessons from the past: you cannot carry on with neo-colonialist exploitation and not pay a price.