|Oil Exploration: Boon or Bane for Manipur|
|Written by Jiten Yumnam|
|Wednesday, 29 August 2012 15:12|
by Jiten Yumnam
For long, Manipur has been known as a golden land. True indeed, oil deposits have been confirmed in several parts of the region. One might presume oil and natural gas discovery in Manipur could propel the strife-torn, conflict-ridden, cash-strapped places like Manipur to new economic and political heights, to liberate itself from shackles of poverty, conflict, political imbroglios and never ending fiascos. However, the resonating voices against Oil exploration from nooks and corners of Manipur tell a different tale. Manipur witnessed a series of peoples’ conglomerations[i] expressing deep concerns with both the process and impacts of oil exploration moves in Manipur.
Massive community protest and objections to the environmental public hearings for oil explorations at Jiribam, Parbung and finally at Nungba Town on 30 July, 8 and 17 August 2012 marked the three hearings. In a historical moment for Manipur, the environmental public hearing at Nungba was cancelled due to stiff community oppositions, who were also able to extract a written note of public hearing cancellation from officials of the Manipur Pollution Control Board, the Deputy Commissioner of Tamenglong District and Jubilant oil and Gas Private Limited, etc.
Reasons for community resentment against oil explorations need a serious introspection. The community messages and positions during objections at environmental public hearings clearly reads, “Stop Petroleum Exploration in Manipur”, “Don’t Plunder and Pollute our Land, Resources & Environment”, “Our land and Resources are not for Sale”, “Go Back Jubilant Energy,” etc. India’s democratic principles and practices have again been subjected to testing times for its legitimacy and practicalities.
Without informing and taking the consent of all indigenous peoples of Manipur, the Government of India through its Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas granted license to Jubiliant Oil and Gas Private Limited, based in Netherlands for exploration and drilling works[ii] in two oil blocks in Manipur located in the Jiribam (Imphal East), Tamenglong and Churachandpur districts of Manipur. The contracts were awarded under the eighth round of New Exploration Licensing Policy (NELP) of the Government of India. The Production Sharing Contract (PSC) for the Manipur oil Block I codenamed AA-ONN-2009/1 and the Petroleum Exploration License (PEL) was granted by the Manipur Government already on 23rd September 2010. The PSC for Manipur Oil Block II codenamed AA-ONN-2009/2 was signed on 19th July, 2010 and the PEL was granted by the Manipur Government on 20th September, 2010. The Deeds relating to the PELs were signed on 15th November, 2010 and the Production Sharing Contracts became effective on this date. The total area granted for oil exploration is nearly 4000 Square Kilometres and it is estimated that Manipur has nearly 5 trillion cubic feet of oil and the oil company, Jubiliant Energy plans to drill from 30 oil wells in Manipur. Earlier, unknown to our people, the Government had undertaken series of promotions globally in 2003 and 2009 to promote the oil blocks in Manipur through road-shows in major cities worldwide, London, Houston, Calgary and Perth etc, inviting bids for Oil companies for exploration and drilling in Manipur. So, Jubilant Energy has been set for the big plunder.
The latest Annual report of Jubilant Energy indicates that the two Manipur Blocks has prospective oil resources ranging from 380 billion cubic feet to 1.43 trillion cubic feet in Manipur with Jubilant Energy holding 100% participating interest[iii]. However in a contradicting figures, the admission document of Jubilant Energy under AIM Rules outlined that the total oil potential in Manipur is nearly 5 Trillion Cubic Feet altogether in the Abin, Kharkhublien, Taithu, Sialman, Laimata, Oinamlong anticlines in the two oil blocks of Manipur. Even a simplistic calculation would mean that the Oil reserves in Manipur are worth several trillions of dollars, which supersedes the economic strength of major developed countries.
In a glaring lack of transparency and accountability, the indigenous peoples of Manipur are not informed so far on the terms and conditions deliberated in the contracts and licensing agreements between the Government of India, Government of Manipur and the JOGPL and how the people of Manipur would be involved and benefitted. Rather, innocent villagers of Tamenglong, Churachandpur District and Jiribam are duped to sign no objections letters or NOC for Seismic surveys by Alphageo Company without informing them the purpose and objectives and also impacts of the surveys and oil exploration and drillings. Communities are also misinformed that oil exploration will also bring roads, schools, hospitals, employment, etc in their respective villages. So, communities of Manipur and in particular those in interior areas without prospects of oil explorations and dam constructions will continue to reel without roads, schools, health facilities and other basic facilities. The roads built by Jubilant Energy are also to facilitate and ensure entry of their survey equipments and vehicles. Interestingly, one has to sacrifice one’s own source of survival and future to avail these basic social amenities.
The question now is whether the Oil Resources in Manipur will propel Manipur or Jubilant Energy to new economic and political heights. One is sure of course, Jubilant Energy has already embarked on a big long term potential opportunities to take itself forward, employing all political, bureaucratic, military machineries of the Government of India and it’s indeed on its way to achieve new heights. On the other hand, the Government of Manipur, so far, has remained silent, may be still, remaining confused on how to handle the oil resources, or powerless even to touch it. The only thing it’s been doing is facilitating Jubilant Energy in exploiting Manipur’s valuable resources, keeping Manipur’s peoples and its future at bay[iv]. The reality of how developed countries grow at the cost of resource-rich areas becomes more glaring.
Jubilant Energy is aggressively pursuing for extracting the oil resources from Manipur, all but, disregarding the indigenous peoples of Manipur, who belongs to the land and who owns the resources. The company contracted Bell Industries to undertake an airborne gradiometer survey, already completed in November 2011. The company also contracted Asian Oilfields and Alpha Geo Company respectively for seismic acquisition, which the company expects to complete by 2013. The company stated that all geological and sedimentological surveys, structural modeling, petrographic & biostratigraphic studies and geochemical analyses have already been completed. The Jubilant Energy is envisaged to drill three exploration wells in 2013—two in the Oinamlong & Nungba in the North Block and one in Parbung in the South Block. The move to plunder our land & resources has never been so obvious before.
Despite abundant availability of Oil and Gas in Manipur, the Government of India and the Government of Manipur have maintained a deafening and deceitful silence for long even to the extent of refraining from making a public and official statement on the availability of Oil and Natural Gas in Manipur. More objectionable is the fact that a mere private company, Jubilant Oil and Gas Private Limited has been conferred the full ownership of all oil resources in Manipur. The first official response of the Government to community’s assertion of voices against oil exploration is filing a First Information Report (FIR) at Nungba Police Station against communities rejecting the environmental public hearing at Nungba on 17 August. The oil exploration move proves a clear disrespect of Manipur’s people and their natural and cultural heritage. It’s impossible for the people of Manipur to accept the outright sale of their land and resources to a profit mongering company without informing them and non-recognition of their rights.
It’s indeed ridiculous that the indigenous communities who own the land and resources in Manipur are not even informed that oil is found in their land and how it is going to be exploited. India has several laws, such as the Oil Fields (Regulation and Development) Act, 1948 , the Oil Industry (Development) Act, 1974; Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land), Act, 1962; and Petroleum & Natural Gas Rules, 1959, which grant exclusive propriety rights of all oil and gas resources and its handling to the Government of India. The awarding of contract with hundred percent interest for Oil in Manipur to a private company, Jubilant Energy is also in the premise that Oil and Natural gas can be traded and sold by Government of India exclusively at will. However, these laws, some of which were formed during Manipur’s political independence periods from 1947 till 1949, are also already outdated and inconsistent with international human rights law advancements, more so with development rights and indigenous peoples rights, such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007, which outlined that all land and resources in Indigenous peoples’ lands belong to them with an exclusive right to control, manage and define their development and future.
The ultimate issue is who owns the land and who should decide how to use it. The question again is whether the Indian laws on Oil exploration, formed without the consultation and consent of the indigenous peoples of Manipur should prevail or whether the indigenous peoples’ rights, ownership and management rights over their ancestral domains passed on by their ancestors for generations as recognized by several international human rights laws should prevail. Several United Nations human rights bodies, while deliberating on the Mapithel dam and proposed Tipaimukh dam constructions in Manipur, have urged the Government of India to respect indigenous peoples rights over their land and their free, prior and informed consent before any development processes[v].
What forms of development will entail for our people when suddenly one fine morning, an oil company, who has nothing to do without land and way of life, suddenly appears and claims our land, based on some archaic irrelevant laws from afar, all in the name of development. And what does it mean further when the Indian military, deployed in Manipur to combat the insurgents, under the infamous Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, provides tacit support for such companies. This is a hard reality happening already in Manipur, which has already been condemned by communities' organizations. Development should not be forced on the people.
The oil exploration move is also fraught with absence of a participatory and detailed environmental impact assessment due to exploration and drilling in Manipur. The initial EIA prepared for the public hearing has only negated the existence of endemic species of Manipur and the rich flora, flora and biodiversity of Manipur. The report also undermines the fact that the entire Tamenglong, Churachandpur and Jiribam is an eco-sensitive zone where survival sources of wildlife and communities in the region goes beyond national parks and sanctuaries. As the world has enough evidences of occasions of oil spills during testing, actual drilling, accidents and bursting of pipelines, the oil exploration would lead to severe contamination of our water bodies and rivers. Ogoniland in Nigeria, Ecuador oil fields, Gulf of Mexico oil spill, refinery explosions in Venezuela and Vishakhapatnam in India are testimonies of oil related disasters and environmental catastrophes. The oil exploration would contaminate our soil, water, pollute our food and ground water and destroy our forests. Gas flaring would also lead to further contamination of our air, water and soil. The Barak River, Irang River, Makru River and tributaries of Barak River will be the first to be impacted by such petroleum exploration and drilling-related pollutions and contaminations. Thousands will also be displaced and their means of livelihood destroyed. There is no information as to how the oil will be transported and whether these pipelines would be an additional source of environmental catastrophe and rights violations.
As Manipur is listed as one of the most corrupt places with high prevalence of favoritism and conflict, any limited loyalty to the Government of Manipur, will never reach its people, but would rather facilitate more conflict. Oil exploration moves in Manipur has already created potential source of conflict within and between communities and also between the communities and the State. Manipur cannot afford to become another Darfur of Eastern Africa. There are clear-cut instances as to how the Jubilant Company and its contracting companies resorted to dubious deals with insurgent outfits operating in Manipur to obtain no objection letters for oil exploration-related survey works in Manipur. Oil Exploration and drilling would increase influx of immigrants in Manipur, intensify militarization and further deepen human rights violations, including violence against women.
Oil Exploration would also intensify the climate change crisis the world is facing today. Gas flaring processes involved in any oil exploration and drilling would further contribute to climate change across the region. Promotion of alternative energies, minimizing overconsumption of energy, changing lifestyles are some of the policies prerogatives to be focused on rather than obsessing with energy-intensive, economic-growth-oriented unsustainable development paradigm.
Environment Public hearings for unsustainable development projects have proved to be meaningless exercises in Manipur. The environment clearance for the proposed Tipaimukh dam construction was cleared by the Ministry of Environment and Forest of the Government of India in October 2008[vi] despite objections of the affected villages in all the five public hearings held for the proposed dam at Tamenglong, Keimai, Mizoram, Tipaimukh and Churachandpur districts, the first hearing being held on 2 December 2004 at Darlawn, Mizoram and the last one on 31 March 2008 at Tipaimukh Village, Manipur[vii]. The Public Hearing processes do not guarantee that the views and voices of communities affected by mega developmental processes are respected as the community’s wishes and aspirations are often undermined and disrespected. The objections to the Environmental public hearings for Oil Exploration at Jiribam, Parbung and Nungba are a clear verdict of all indigenous peoples of Manipur, which the Government of India and Jubilant Energy should respect. All efforts to subdue the voices of the communities, including trying to arrest and detain community members for raising their voices of opposition to Oil exploration in Manipur would only infuriate them and further strengthen their resolve against oil exploration.
The Government of India and Jubilant Energy should recognize that the oil and all resources in Manipur belong to the indigenous peoples of Manipur and that they have exclusive rights to define and decide how to use, control and manage their resources. Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognize indigenous peoples’ right to Self determination over their land, resources and future. Until the rights of communities over their land and resources are recognized and their self-determined developmental rights are fully respected, the Jubiliant Energy and the Government of India should stop all petroleum-and-drilling-related activities in Manipur.
[i] Civil bodies say `No` to oil exploration in Manipur, The Imphal Free Press, The 17 Jul7 2012, http://kanglaonline.com/2012/07/civil-bodies-say-no-to-oil-exploration/
[iii] Annual Report of Jubilant Energy 2011-2012
[iv] Circular of the Director, Commerce and Industry Department, Government of Manipur, Date 31 March 2011, Memo no. D(5)-15(1)/IND/2010/IH7
[v] UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Concluding Observations, India, 5 May 2007, CERD/C/IND/CO/19
[vi] Letter of MoEF, Government of India to Chairman, NEEPCO on 24 October 2008 concerning Environmental Clearance of Tipaimukh Dam. (http://www.siphro.org/files/Tipaimukh_Clearance_by_MoEF.pdf)
[vii] Damned hearings of Tipaimukh Dam”, By Jiten Yumnam, The New Nation, Bangladesh, 5 May, 2008