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Oil Exploration: Boon Or Bane For Manipur

Manipur has been known as a ‘golden land.’ True indeed, as oil is today’s gold and deposits have been confirmed in several parts of the region. One might presume oil and natural gas discovery in Manipur could propel strife-torn, conflict-ridden, cash-strapped, places like Manipur to new economic and political heights, liberating them from shackles of poverty, conflict, political imbroglios, and never-ending fiascos. However, the voices against oil exploration resonating from nooks and corners of Manipur tell a difference tale.

Manipur witnessed a series of peoples’ conglomerations1, expressing deep concern with both the process and impact of oil exploration in Manipur. The mandatory environmental public hearings for oil explorations meant to be held at Jiribam, Parbung, and Nungba Town, on 30th July, 8th August, and 17th August, 2012, were met by massive community protests objecting to the oil exploration. In a historical moment for Manipur, the environmental public hearing at Nungba was cancelled by government officials, due to stiff opposition by the community. The community protestors were able to extract a written note, detailing the cancellation of the public hearing cancellation, from officials of the Manipur Pollution Control Board, the Deputy Commissioner of Tamenglong District, and the Jubilant oil and Gas Private Limited.

Reasons for community resentment against oil explorations need serious consideration. The message from the community and positions taken during objections at environmental public hearings clearly read: “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,” and so on. India’s democratic principles and practices have again been subjected to testing times, in terms of legitimacy and practical application.

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, a company based in Netherlands, for exploration and drilling works2 in two oil blocks in Manipur that are 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 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 around 4,000 square kilometers 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 a series of promotions globally, in 2003 and 2009, to promote the oil blocks in Manipur through road-shows in major cities, such as London, Houston, Calgary and Perth, inviting bids from oil companies for exploration and drilling in Manipur. Jubilant Energy has thus been set for big plunder.

The latest Annual report of Jubilant Energy indicates that the two Manipur Blocks have prospective oil resources ranging from 380 billion cubic feet to 1.43 trillion cubic feet, with Jubilant Energy holding 100% participating interest3. However in 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, and Oinamlong anticlines in the two oil blocks of Manipur.  Even a simple calculation shows that the oil reserves in Manipur are worth several trillion dollars, which supersedes the economic strength of major developed countries.

In a glaring lack of transparency and accountability, the indigenous peoples of Manipur have not been informed about the terms and conditions deliberated upon and detailed in the contracts and licensing agreements between the government of India, the 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 being duped to sign no-objections letters or NOC for Seismic surveys by Alphageo Company, without the people being informed as to the purpose and objectives and also impacts of the surveys, oil explorations, and drillings.

Communities have also been made to believe that the oil exploration will bring roads, schools, hospitals, and employment 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. So, one’s future and one’s source of survival have to be sacrificed 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 long-term potential opportunities to take itself forward, employing all political, bureaucratic, and military machineries of the government of India, and it is indeed on its way to achieve new heights. On the other hand, the Government of Manipur, so far, has remained silent, perhaps still confused on how to handle its oil resources, or powerless even to touch it. The only thing it has been doing is to facilitate Jubilant Energy to exploit Manipur’s valuable resources, keeping Manipur’s people and their future at distant bay4. Considering this, the realities of how developed countries grow at the cost of resource rich areas becomes clear.

Jubilant Energy is aggressively pursuing the extraction of oil resources from Manipur, all but disregarding the indigenous peoples of Manipur, who belong 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 been maintenance 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 full-ownership of all oil resources in Manipur. The first official response of the government to community’s assertion against oil exploration is filing an FIR at Nungba Police Station against communities rejecting the environmental public hearing at Nungba on 17th August. The oil exploration move proves clear disrespect of our people and our natural and cultural heritage. It’s impossible for the people of Manipur to accept the outright sale of our land and resources to a profit-mongering company, without informing the people and without recognizing our rights.

It is indeed ridiculous that the indigenous communities that 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 grants exclusive propriety rights of all oil and gas resources and its handling to Government of India. The awarding of contract with hundred percent interest for oil in Manipur to a private company, Jubilant Energy, is also on 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 period of political independence, i.e. between 1947 and 1949, are also already outdated and inconsistent with the advancement of international human rights law, more so with development rights and indigenous peoples’ rights, such as UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 2007, which outline that all land and resources where indigenous peoples reside belongs to them, with exclusive rights of control, management, and definition of 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, and also recognized by several international human rights laws, should prevail. Several United Nations human rights bodies, while deliberating on the Mapithel dam and the proposed Tipaimukh dam constructions in Manipur, have urged upon the government of India to respect indigenous peoples rights over their land and obtain free prior and informed consent before any development processes5.

What forms of development will entail for our people when suddenly one fine morning, an oil company, which has nothing to do with our 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 for any 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 the 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 corrupted 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. Moves towards oil exploration in Manipur have already created a 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 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 and 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, and changing lifestyles are some of the policy prerogatives to be focused on, rather than obsessing with an 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 20086, 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 2nd December 2004 at Darlawn, Mizoram, and the last one on 31stMarch 2008 at Tipaimukh Village, Manipur7. The public hearing processes do not guarantee respecting the views and voice of communities affected by mega-developmental processes and community 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 – that the government of India the Jubilant Energy should respect their wishes and aspirations and reasons of objection to oil exploration. All efforts to subdue the voices of the communities, including trying to arrest and detain community members for raising their voices in opposition to oil exploration in Manipur, will only infuriated them to further and strengthen their resolve against oil exploration.

The government of India and Jubiliant Energy should recognize that oil and all resources in Manipur belongs 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 International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes indigenous peoples’ right to self determination over their land, resources and future. Till the rights of communities over their land and resources are recognized and their self-determined developmental rights are fully respected, Jubiliant Energy and the government of India should stop all petroleum and drilling related activities in Manipur.

*The article is written by Jiten Yumnam.

(Courtesy: Centre for Research and Advocacy Manipur)

*You can read the original article here.

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