Silencing dissent in Changpang

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Fuelling discontent Local residents are against oil drilling in Changpang
Fuelling discontent Local residents are against oil drilling in Changpang

In the past few weeks, Tehelka had exposed irregularities by the Nagaland government in its allotment of licences to drill for crude oil in the state. A large section of the state has been agitating against the decision to allot these licences, but at least one local organisation leader — Mhao Odyuo — has been supporting the state government because he was given work contracts in the oil mines and asked to “manage” local resistance.

Nagaland has large oil reserves and until a few years ago, the Central government used to control all mining operations. The Central PSU, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), used to extract oil from some blocks, including in the Changpang area. The ONGC says that around 1,600 barrels a day could be drilled and the total reserve is around 110 million barrels. An internal communique of the Central government estimates that drilling would deliver up to 1,000 barrels of crude oil, worth around Rs 50 lakh as per current prices. Eventually, the political conflict in Nagaland forced the ONGC to withdraw in 1994, leading to oil spills that contaminated water and agricultural fields.

In 2007, the ONGC envisaged plans to extract oil along with Canadian firm Canoro from six oil blocks in the state, whose total oil reserve is estimated to be around 600 million tonnes. But rebel groups such as the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (SS Khaplang faction) openly warned the two companies against resuming any oil exploration and drilling operations in the state.

In 2011, the state government overrode the Centre’s control through legislation, claiming constitutional sanction. This helped to win the support of the rebels because the intent was to serve the interests of the Naga people.

Earlier, Tehelka had reported that the entire process, beginning from state legislation to override Central control to the actual allotment to Metropolitan Oil and Gas Pvt Ltd, had possibly been orchestrated by TR Zeliang when he had been the planning minister in Neiphiu Rio’s Cabinet (Oil scam leaves a slippery trail, 8 November). It was made easier when Zeliang took over as the CM this May after Rio successfully contested for the sole Lok Sabha seat from Nagaland.

Metropolitan was allotted two blocks despite questionable credentials and lack of financial eligibility.

This move met with widespread protests from several organisations such as the Kyong Students’ Union (KSU) and the Lotha Naga Hoho of the Wokha region. In a press release, the KSU claimed to have the support of citizens’ groups and village councils.

The Lotha Naga Hoho has also filed a PIL before the Nagaland High Court in Guwahati. The parallel government of the NSCN (Isak-Muivah), called the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagalim, has said that it will not allow Metropolitan to extract oil and denied the company its own licence. In 1994, the NSCN(IM) had demanded Rs 1 crore from the ONGC to continue operations in Changpang. There are other rebel outfits that are likely to deny permission to drill for oil.

Despite the widespread protests, Zeliang officially launched the drilling operations in July. The biggest concern about oil drilling and the eligibility of the contractor has been in Changpang. But ironically, the head of the Changpang Landowners’ Association has been supporting Zeliang government’s move.

Tehelka has accessed documents which show that Metropolitan has handed labour contracts to Mhao Odyuo, the head of the Changpang Landowners’ Association, despite local residents and organisations protesting against the exploration and drilling operations.

The contract is between ONGC teri Biotech Ltd and Odyuo, addressed, c/o Metropolitan Oil & Gas — the same company against whom locals have been protesting because of its questionable credentials. According to the deal, Odyuo is to provide 200 labourers, 30 supervisors, three JCBs, two trucks and an oil zapper (which converts oil spills to carbon dioxide and water) to the drilling site.

According to clause 13 of the contract, “If any problem or issue is created by villagers in the area of MOGPL Nagaland, you (Odyuo) shall have to manage at your end.” Clause 2 is equally ominous and requires him to obtain a certificate of completion from the farmers and landowners in Changpang, “if required”.

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TEHELKA COVERAGE

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