Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Cart before the horse

In a major development on April 21,2023, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and his Nagaland counterpart Neiphiu Rio, agreed to permit oil exploration and extraction along the Disputed Area Border(DAB) and subsequent sharing of oil revenue. The proposal for a joint exploration and revenue sharing between the two states was initiated by the centre in January this year. This was also contained in the speech to the first session of the 14th Nagaland Legislative Assembly by then Governor Prof.Jagdish Mukhi. Then later while presenting the budget on March 27, chief minister Neiphiu Rio informed that his government intends to start exploration and extraction of oil in the Disputed Area Belt (DAB) once the tripartite MoU with the Centre, Nagaland and Assam is signed. The agreement between Assam and Nagaland for oil and gas operations has quite expectedly opened a Pandora box. This was evident from various statements from several organisations. Even as the plan for restarting the process for oil operations had received the support from various organisations; there were several others who have red flagged the issue. Those who backed the proposal were keen to chart the path for obtaining economic dividend . Some raised concern against oil operation along the DAB was over the pending issue of resolving the border dispute between the two states. This section maintains that going ahead with oil operations along the DAB was tantamount to lending legitimacy to the unresolved boundary which has not been accepted by Nagaland since huge tracts of land currently under Assam belonged to Nagas but were transferred by the British colonial government in 1925 notification. Nagaland insists that the actual boundary is acknowledged by the British notification in 1866. The main stakeholder, the Lothas through the apex Lotha Hoho has also withheld its approval for oil exploration pending settlement of the boundary , the fulfilment of the MoU signed with the state government over clauses in the Nagaland Petroleum & Natural Gas Regulation 2012 as well as pending PIL pertaining to award of contract to Metropolitan Oil and Gas Private Limited(MOGPL). It may be pointed out that Nagaland has an estimated reserve of around 650 million tonnes of crude oil and gas that could transform the state and bring enormous dividends to its economic growth. Changpang and Tssori in Wokha district which have a proven reserve of more than 50 million tonnes of crude oil. The other reserves estimated at nearly 600 million tonnes at Mokokchung (Geleki/ Changki), Mon(Singphan) and Peren districts to name a few. Thus oil operations could benefit cash-strapped Nagaland for the next several decades in terms of revenue. Moreover, the state has 315 million tonnes of coal reserves and 1,038 million tonnes of limestone reserves. ONGC continued drilling in Assam and has already completed 39 oil fields of which 27 are operational. A number of the oil fields are located at Geleki, Khoraghat, Nambor, Kasomarigaon, Suphyam, Dayalpur, Barholla and Mekrang oil fields along the Assam-Nagaland border. Nagaland has been claiming these areas based on traditional ownership and historical accounts but royalty for these are being collected by Assam. Though oil extraction for revenue is welcome yet unless these concerns are resolved, the plan would be like putting the cart before the horse.


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