The site near the oil and gas blowout and fire at Baghjan in Assam's Tinsukia district | Photo: Bidyut Kalita

The oil well blowout and fire at Baghjan in Assam’s Tinsukia district might have a deadly impact on biodiversity as it is surrounded by water bodies and a national park.

Even as the fire continues at the site, environmentalists have expressed fear of deadly consequences. Maguri-Motapung wetland, a spot known for avian and aquatic species is located towards the south of the site which is not even a kilometer away. Dibru Saikhowa National Park, another biodiversity hotspot, is also located nearby which is around 2 kilometre away in the north.

“…an immature Endangered Ganges river dolphin and a Particoloured flying squirrel died, the condition of the Endangered Wild water buffalo is not known but their grassland habitat already burnt. The area is known world over for some very rare grassland birds such as Black-breasted Parrotbill, Jerdon’s Babbler, Marsh Babbler, Swamp Prinia and Swamp Francolin. Their grassland habitat seemed to be destroyed but what happened to their nests, as it is the breeding season, is not known,” Anwaruddin Choudhury, naturalist and retired bureaucrat, told The News Mill.

Choudhury, who has authored 28 books and more than 700 articles and scientific papers on wildlife, further said that the Baghjan episode is an example of careless and indifferent attitude of the companies towards poor villagers living in the neighbourhood and environmental impact in the surrounding areas.

“Now the wetland is covered with a layer of oil, probably suffocating many life forms. It is monsoon now and water levels are quite high, this oily layer will enter (I think already entered) Dibru-Saikhowa and farther down affect the Brahmaputra river and riverine tracts all along through Majuli to Dhubri although the impact in these downstream areas may not be conspicuous but would be there,” Choudhury added.

He said, “The migratory birds would start arriving from end-September and it is unlikely that the habitat – grassland and the wetland could recover by then. It could be a death trap for many migrants.”

Assam’s Chief Wildlife Warden MK Yadava said that Maguri Beel has obviously borne the brunt of the gas-condensate leakage and also the blaze that is still raging.

“A panel is assessing the situation, and water and soil samples of both the wetland and the national park have been sent for testing. We have formed several teams and they are gathering materials from different locations in the affected areas. We expect to get a clearer picture of the damage in the next few days,” Yadav was quoted as saying by The Assam Tribune.

Already, carcasses of a Gangetic river dolphin, fish, and birds have been recovered from the wetland in the last several days since the blowout started on May 27.

The WWF India has urged the Assam government to initiate immediate steps to restore the habitats in and around Dibru Saikhowa National Park and Maguri Motapung Beel. It also requested the government to take action against those responsible for the irreparable damage to the environment and people invoking the relevant provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

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