Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 113, 17 June 2020

Assam's gas explosion brings out the crisis in resource extraction in India's Northeast
Monish Tourangbam

In the news

A massive gas leak in the oil well, run by the Oil India Ltd in the Tinsukia district of Assam state in the Northeast, led to a raging inferno last week. Reportedly, two firefighters have lost their lives, and thousands have been displaced from the area. Tremors have also been reported in the area and Assam's Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal, called for experts to look into this on an emergency basis.

The Union Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas also visited the area along with Chief Minister Sonowal. Inquiry committees have been set up at various levels to look into the matter. Given the circumstances of the incident, the committees will be looking into the issue of culpability, the impact on the ecological environment of the area and the measures required to prevent such occurrences in the future. 
Issues at large

First, the ecological damage. The oil well is located extremely close to the Dibru-Saikhowa national park, and to the Maguri-Motapung wetland, which has increased the threat to wildlife and the broader ecological environment of the area. According to reports, crops, water bodies and wetlands in the nearby areas have been severely affected, and the threat is not yet over. 

Second, the immediate loss of life and long term impacts on public health. The damage done to flora and fauna of the area, and to people's lives is those that are evidently visible. The ill-effects of the gas leak over a longer period is yet to be known. All efforts as of now have been focused on fighting against time and elements to put an end to the immediate ordeal. The toxic releases from the blow out of the gas leak are being seen as a major concern, and questions are being raised on new explorations and setting up of oil wells without proper studies conducted on the potential impact. 

Third, the attention of the national media on issues related to the North East. The national media not only needs to report on such emergencies in the nook and corner of the country, bring it to the public attention but also shed light on the lapses on the part of regulation regarding resource exploitation leading to such mishaps with deep and wide-ranging implications.

In perspective

First, a number of areas in the Northeast, have been projected as being rich in resources that can be exploited and extracted to fuel the economy. However, another side of the story is also to listen to those who raise concerns, related to the environmental repercussions of such economic ventures. The rich biodiversity in the region is also a resource that needs to be preserved, and all steps need caution to balance economic entrepreneurship and the call for environmental security. 

Second is the lack of preparedness in terms of quick response to such disasters. Are there requisite safety standards, precautions and regulations being followed to make sure that such dangerous incidents could be handled and also avoided in the future? 

Monish Tourangbam is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Geopolitics and International Relations and Head of the Northeast Centre at Manipal Academy of Higher Education.

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