Assam: Locals resist privatisation of oil fields in Geleki amid fear of losing benefits

Civil society organisations in Assam have vowed to resist the privatisation of oil fields at Geleki in the Shivsagar district of the state fearing it may have a negative impact on the interests of natives and the development of the region.

Speaking with Firstpost, Aswini Chetia, advisor to All Assam Tai Ahom Students Union (AATASU), a students body that is a part of a joint committee of the eight groups that are opposing the privatisation, said, "As per existing policy of the Oil and Natural Gas Company (ONGC), Assam is provided with corporate social responsibility fund for socio-economic development of the region. We want the Government of India to make clear its stance on what will happen to those benefits after the new arrangement comes into force."

 Assam: Locals resist privatisation of oil fields in Geleki amid fear of losing benefits

Representational image. Reuters

The resistance has come at a time when the Government of India is envisioning a target of reducing its dependency on oil and gas import by 10 percent by the year 2022.

Chetia also said that the civil society organisations have been repeatedly demanding the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas to clarify its stand on the issue, but have not received any reply so far. He also asserted that unless the Central government assures to protect the interests of the natives, the resistance movement will not be lifted.

Anupam Borgohain, president of the Geleki Sangrami Joutha Mancha, a joint committee formed to protest the privatisation of the oil field said, "On 19 December, the committee made a decision to resist the exploration of crude oil from the Geleki oil field. But, on Wednesday, the ONGC invited us for a discussion on the issue. The ONGC officials told us that the company has not signed any agreement with any private party to privatise the Geleki oilfield till now."

However, the ONGC has reportedly entered into a production sharing agreement with Schlumberger, one of the world's biggest suppliers of technology and services in the oil and gas industry to work on an ageing ONGC field in Assam.

Borgohain said that the joint committee has demanded that ONGC should make its stand public on the issue. "We have given ONGC three days time to make its stand clear on the issue of privatisation (of the Geleki oil field) and the rights of the locals, or else we will resist any exploration in the Geleki oilfield,” he added.

Crude oil exploration has long been an integral part of Assamese identity politics aimed at economic self-determination through exercising the indigenous population's rights over natural resources.

The historic Assam Accord of 1985 that was signed after the Assam agitation is considered a guiding document of Assamese identity politics. It led to the creation of Numaligarh Refinery that manages the state’s crude oil resources besides standing as a symbol of Assamese pride.

There is a growing discontent among many in Assam that the crude oil rich state is receiving a raw deal from the two major oil extracting giants Oil India Limited (OIL) and ONGC in terms of royalty to be paid to the state on oil extraction.

It was only recently that the Oil and ONGC paid Rs 1,450 crores to the state as royalty on a pre-discounted price and that too after much persuasion by the state government.

"The only benefit of oil extraction that goes directly to the hands of the local people is the corporate social responsibility fund," says Ashwini Chetia.

Apart from spending millions of rupees in education and health care sector in the state, thus leading to the creation of indirect employment, the ONGC's social responsibility fund has created more than 4,000 direct employment in the self-help group sector, says a research conducted by Prof PK Halder and Bidhu Kanti Das.

However, in June 2016 Dharmendra Pradhan, Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas declared that privatisation of 12 small oilfields in Assam will add Rs 4,000 crores as revenue to the state coffers.

The oil industry has also contributed in creating downline industries and services in Assam that are contributing to the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).

"But this set up tends to get disturbed if the oil fields are privatised, which is why we are against such privatisation. But if the government has to privatise the oil fields then the rights of the locals have to be protected," Chetia told Firstpost.

Borgohain informed Firstpost that apart from AATASU, the joint committee protesting the privatisation of the Geleki oil field also includes All Assam Students Union, All Assam Tea Tribes Students Association, Brihottar Asomiya Yuba Mancha, the local committee of Asom Jatiyatabadi Yuba Chatra Parishad, Geleki Byabosaee Sanstha and AJYPP.

Updated Date: Dec 22, 2016 09:40:12 IST