The Standing Committee of the National Board for Wildlife, in its meeting on July 29, has decided to recommend the proposal of sub-surface mining to extract hydrocarbon beneath 3900-4000 metres of the Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Assam. The Solicitor General, Ranjit Kumar, on August 14, informed the Supreme Court bench of Justices Madan B.Lokur and Deepak Gupta, by giving a copy of the letter dated August 9, regarding minutes of the 44th meeting of the NBWL.
The bench asked the SG to place the letter by way of an affidavit along with conditions on which permission has been granted including safety measures and protection and mitigation measures to be taken by the forest department and Oil India for the welfare of the existing wildlife population as well as to prevent environmental damage and pollution in the vicinity of the National Park.
The Indian Oil Corporation proposed to drill seven wells and extract and evacuate the oil and gas beneath Dibru-Saikhowa National Park by using Horizontal Deviation Directional Drilling Technology (HDDDT) and also the Extended Reach Drilling Technology (ERDT) at a depth varying from 3900 to 4000 meters through Drill Pads which will be placed at a distance of 1.5km. away from the boundary of the National Park and through horizontal pipes which will go underneath the boundary of the National Park. The IOC already obtained the relevant Environmental Clearances from the Standing Committee of the NBWL with regard to construction of production related infrastructure facilities for pipe lines, Oil Collecting Stations, Gas Compressor Stations and Gas Gathering Stations in the 10 km Ecological Sensitive Zones area of the National Park as well as Bherjan-Borjan-Podumoni Wildlife Sanctuary.
IOC, through the Central Empowered Committee, had earlier assured the Supreme Court that its proposal to extract and evacuate petroleum and natural gas from deep beneath the earth under the provisions of the Oil Fields (Development and Regulation) Act, 1948, would have no adverse impact on the forest and wildlife in the area.
IOC contended that the Supreme Court’s judgment dated 21.4.2014 in the Goa Foundation prohibiting mining within one km from the boundary of any National Park and Sanctuary declared under the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972, is applicable only to open cast/surface mining leases granted under the MMDRA Act and not leases under the Oil Fields (Development and Regulation) Act, 1948. The IOC prayed to the Supreme Court that it may direct the NBWL to consider its proposal.
According to a circular issued by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (Forest Conservation Division) on August 14, 2015, prior leave of Supreme court for use of forest land for non-forest purposes has to be obtained by the concerned user agency, after approvals from NBWL.
The Central Empowered Committee (CEC), appointed by the Supreme Court, also recommended on May 6, 2016, that the technology proposed to be used by IOC would in no way adversely impact the flora and fauna in and around the National Park.
Supreme Court has been continuously monitoring mining activity in forest areas in the ongoing T.N.Godavarman Thirumalpad v Union of India through several Interlocutory Applications. IA No.3934 deals with the IOC’s application for mining at Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.
The matter will come up for hearing again on September 7.