By Jinine Lai, Suwon
In 2010, Government of India awarded Jubilant Energy Private Limited 2 blocks of oil deposition of Block AA-ONN-2009/1 and Block AA-ONN-2009/2 that covers about 4000 sq km in the southwest of Manipur after the eight round of bidding under the New Exploration License Policy.And recently civil society found another Block of about 220 sq km in Jiribam subdivision of western Manipur given contract lease to Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, India (ONGC).
Alfa Geo Company and other sub partners have conducted seismic surveillance and other initial work of the project. In the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) reports of Jubilant Energy about 30 oil wells have been identified in the mountainous terrain of Manipur where Barak River originates.
Civil societies, student organisations and village representatives of likely affected area have been protesting against the oil exploration and drilling activities since 2011.
How far locals and peoples of Manipur will be benefited from the oil extraction is a key concern always. In fact, the royalty share for the state and community is around 10% of gross production; it is also possible only after hard bargaining. The state government has very little judicial strength to entertain the hydrocarbon production share on their own soils. The Association of Natural Gas and … vs Union Of India (Uoi) And Ors. on 25 March, 2004 (Supreme Court) displayed a precedent with following terms
1. Natural Gas including Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) is a Union subject covered by Entry 53 of List I and the Union has exclusive legislative competence to enact laws on natural gas.
2. The States have no legislative competence to make Saws on the subject of natural gas and liquefied natural gas under Entry 25 of List II of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution.
During the course of extraction, the saline (formation) water will come out; accidental oil spillage and frequent leakages will happen; sewage, surface runoff, drilling cuts, and other hazardous oil contents will also be disposed. They will flow down through the creeks and drainages to the tributaries of Barak- namelyMakru, Tuivai, Irang, TuipiLui and TuibumLui.
By taking all the pollutants from these small rivers into its stream, a stronger and bigger Barak will run down to the riparian of Surma andKushiyara in Bangladesh after passing Assam. The pollutants will spread along the total length of Barak i.e. about 1000 kmfrom its source in Manipur up to the mouth in the Bay of Bengal. The adverse environmental impact will spread relatively faster in the downstream because of two reasons – one, river flow will be buoyed up by the monsoons at the mountainous source of the Barak that recorded an average annual rainfall of 2000 mm, and second, frequent widespread floods in the Barak downstream.
The Fear Future:
The impact of the project may be more critical in the Barak downstream in Indo-Bangla region.The conflict over the limited livelihood resources will exacerbate affecting the population of 3.8 million of southern Assam of India and 9.8 million of Sylhet Division in Bangladesh.
First, the water will not be fit for human consumption, agriculture, the environment, flora and fauna.
Second, the frequent floods of the Barak Valley and of Sylhet division will spread the oil and other hazardous pollutants through the riparian region. There will be long term deterioration of land, water, vegetation, air, and public health. One of the crucial impacts will be of the destruction of source of staple food – paddy fields and fishing areas. Most importantly, water shortages will become acute.
And third, eventually cross border migration, refugee challenge will be volume upand becoming an add-up to the already existing conflict in Assam and around.
A great apprehension is that the violence may not be confined to certain geographical locations, but could spread across the entire North East India namely Assam, Arunachal, Pradesh Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya,Tripura, Nagaland and across Bangladesh.
The information revealed by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) shows that in 2013, India was home to 3.2 million Bangladeshi residents who had migrated into the country. Though there is no state-wise break-up of the Bangladeshi migrants, the problem is most severe in Assam.
Thus the emergence of a surface conflict may become more visible than ever before in such a very vulnerable atmosphere. The nature of the possible conflict and violence may be very similar to the communal violence in Kokrajhar, Chirang and Dhubri in Assam which is caused by land and livelihood issue rather than the religious hostility.
Here, we may acknowledge the condition and cause of the recurring Assam conflict. There is implication of “outsiders” encroaching on “others’ land”. Many unskilled or semi-skilled people have crossed over from Bangladesh to Assam and neighbouring states in search of livelihoods. It is a fact that for those living in Bangladesh’s border areas with a population density of 1,150 per sq km and per capita income of INR 46,870, Assam with a population of 397 per sq km and a per capita income of INR 84,400 is a greener pasture. According to the Supreme Court of India, the all India percentage of decadal increase in population during 1981-1991 is 23.85%, whereas in the border districts of Assam, the decadal increase is 42.08% in Karimganj, 47.59% in Cachar, and 56.57% in Dhubri. It can be assumed that the infiltration of foreigners from Bangladesh contributed significantly to the sharp increase in Assam’s population.
The area where the two blocks lie is within the Indo-Burma mega biodiversity hotspot zone. Insofar according to experts, the region is very rich in endemic species of both flora and fauna, and is the second largest riverine ecosystem of North-East India. Medicinal plants, dense bamboo jungles and other forest resources are very abundant sources of the sustainable development.
The hydrocarbon extraction will ruin people’s lives and the environment. The conflict along the Barak River and its downstream due to the oil project in Manipur can be avoided or checked. Should the Government of India as a principal stake-holder see the good side of reviewing the EIA reports since the reports did not mention the critical aspects of the impacts. It will be helpful to identify the critical threat to the water resources and its eventuality on the human population in terms of livelihood and conflict. If the Government reconsiders the voices of the peoples and civil societies it will be a favourable response towards the issue. In fact, there could be a trade-off calculation between the greater loss and smaller profit of this hydrocarbon project.
The writer is an Assistant Professor, International Education Department, University of Suwon, South Korea