Refinery township wall on elephant corridor not demolished, company files petition for relief (Karbi Hills, India)


Jayashree Nandi, Times of India

Date Published
The Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) has filed a review petition in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against NGT’s judgement directing that a wall bordering the refinery township be immediately demolished. The wall with barbed wire bordering the refinery township and golf course is restricting a wildlife corridor used frequently by elephants.

NGT in its August 24 judgement had noted that the wall definitely falls in the elephant corridor. It had a letter of divisional forest officer (DFO) Golaghat to deputy general manager, ‘NRL’ which said: “The elephants use this corridor to move from the Karbi Hills to Dhansiri river for their water requirement through this Deopahar forest only. Unfortunately, this corridor has been breached at many points by various construction and major part by the construction of ‘NRL’ Township between Deopahar and Dhansiri river. Due to loss of this corridor, the herd of elephants has to stray in human habitation resulting in huge loss of life and property.”

NGT had also referred to a video showing an elephant dying after it hit the wall. “The said wall is also encroaching upon the Deopahar proposed reserve forest’ as well as the no-development zone (NDZ), NGT had said.

“It is also evident that ‘NRL’ while making the Golf course, has denuded the hill covering about 5 hectares of a large number of trees, without any approval of the Central Government or compensatory afforestation, despite its being in the ‘NDZ’. They have flattened the hill and removed the precious top soil to make the golf course, thereby leading to environmental degradation,” the Tribunal had said and imposed an environmental compensation of Rs 25 lakh on NRL which they were to pay to Assam forest department.

It’s not clear why the wall wasn’t demolished by the forest department immediately after the August order. DFO Rajib Das did not answer TOI’s calls. Gaurav Bothra, Deputy Commissioner, Golaghat told TOI, “On September 24 forest department had asked for force for security reasons so that the wall could be demolished. But it was very late. I am not sure why this delay. I have heard NRL is planning to appeal in NGT against demolishing the wall.”

The refinery in their application filed on September 23 claimed that the Tribunal has “erred” in not noticing the state environment impact assessment authority (SEIAA’s) comment that construction of a boundary wall and golf course don’t require environmental clearance. It also claims that the land allotted to the refinery in 2004-08 for the extension of existing township by stating that it is revenue land and is not a part of Deopahar proposed reserve forest. It says that submission by the petitioner suggesting 12 elephants had died due to the wall restricting their movement is not true. The petition refers to location information provided by the Golaghat forest officials with approximate aerial distance of the refinery wall from where the deaths occurred.

“The Tribunal failed to note that “prior environmental clearance was obtained from MoEF for construction of township extension…” The petition appeals for a stay and review of NGT’s August judgment.

Ritwick Dutta, advocate appearing for Rohit Choudhury who had filed the petition against NRL’s wall said he hasn’t received a copy of NRL’s review petition yet. “They should have complied with NGT’s orders immediately. There was no stay on the demolition of the wall. This is a clear violation of NGT’s judgement.”