The Supreme Court on Thursday put a stay on the National Green Tribunal order constituting a 10-member committee to look into last year’s fire incident at Assam’s Baghjan oil well, the Hindustan Times reported.

A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and MR Shah expressed surprise on the fact that the managing director of Oil India Limited was made a member of the committee, even as the government-owned firm was held responsible for the incident by the tribunal itself, PTI reported.

“We are surprised that NGT first holds that Oil India responsible for the damages to the environment and for destroying the wetlands and then an officer of Oil India is made a member of the committee to go into these issues,” the court said.

The bench was hearing an appeal filed by activist Bonani Kakkar challenging the February 19 order by the National Green Tribunal.

In its order, the tribunal had held Oil India Limited prima facie responsible for the fire and blamed the hydrocarbon exploration and production company for failing to take necessary safety precautions. It directed the formation of the 10-member committee to assess damages caused to the biodiversity due to the fire.

Appearing for Kakkar, Senior Advocate Siddharth Mitra told the Supreme Court that inclusion of the Oil India Limited executive in the committee amounted to breach of the principal justice, the Hindustan Times reported.

Mitra also pointed out that a separate committee led by former Gauhati High Court judge BP Katakey had already submitted a report on the incident and the formation of a new committee will only delay the process of inquiry.

The Supreme Court bench agreed to his submissions and said it will hear the matter after two weeks so that it is not left pending any further. The court also said it will set up a new committee that could submit a report expeditiously.

Baghjan fire incident

A fire had broken out at well number five of the Baghjan Oil Field on June 9, 2020, days after a major blowout took place on May 27 last year. The fire could be completely doused only on November 15. At least two firefighters had died in the blaze. On July 22, another explosion at the well left three foreign experts injured.

In June last year, the National Green Tribunal had directed Oil India Limited to pay an interim fine of Rs 25 crore for the damage caused to public health and wildlife due to the fire. The tribunal then also set up the Katakey-led committee.

In February, the National Green Tribunal held the Oil India Limited responsible and formed the 10-member committee, based on the report by the Katakey panel. The tribunal also set up a fresh six-member committee to fix responsibility for the failures of the concerned individuals in the fire incident. Another seven-member committee was constituted to go into the past compliances and the remedial action.