CHENNAI: The year 2020 has been a boon and a bane for the environment. In the initial two months of the lockdown, we cheered for all the goodness — pollution levels were at the lowest, waste generated was down by almost 50 per cent, no noise pollution, hidden wildlife made cameo appearances — that made us believe nature was healing.
And then came some horrifying news. On June 9, a massive fire broke out at Oil India Limited’s Baghjan oil field in Assam’s Tinsukia district. Plumes of smoke and flames filled the otherwise blue sky. Two firemen died, more than 6,000 families were evacuated and nature dealt with an irreparable loss.
The blowout not only endangered the lives of families in the vicinity but also wildlife as the oilfield lies in proximity to the Dibru Saikhowa National Park and the Maguri-Motapung Beel wetland. The fire broke out two weeks after a gas well in the area had started leaking gas and condensate uncontrollably.
What’s even more alarming is that when India remained locked down, it was business as usual for the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), which issued the clearance for drilling and testing in the Baghjan oilfield, on May 11, 2020.
In fact, a week before the lockdown, environment activists protested against the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020, which proposed to: ease processes for business, do away with scope for any public comments, and ease rules for linear development projects of dams, roads, telecom networks through national parks, sanctuaries and wildlife reserves. In the backdrop of the Baghjan devastation, as activists keep the debates and discussion alive in this tussle between environmental priorities and development agenda, eight natural reserves remain in deep stress.