Oilmen haven’t had it easy here. Rightly so!

Imlisanen Jamir

“Strange, strange are the dynamics of oil and the ways of oilmen,” wrote the reclusive essayist and novelist Thomas Pynchon in his 1973 novel ‘Gravity’s Rainbow.’

Pynchon, in his grim apocalyptic description of the industrialized and privatized world, creates a not so exaggerated depiction of the modern condition; with the quest for fuel as his hammering point.

Nagaland sits atop 600 million tonnes of crude oil, according to some estimates, prompting oilmen, governments and those who would benefit from its extraction to perpetually lick their lips.

From the years when the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) first drilled their holes at Changpang and Old Tssori in 1973, to the more recent Nagaland Petroleum & Natural Gas (NPNG) Regulations and Rules 2012, it has not be easy for oil companies, their cohorts and governments to carry out large scale extraction in Nagaland.

And neither should it be!

The Lotha Hoho, whose jurisdictional area perhaps has most of the state’s oil reserves, filed a Public Interest Litigation at the Gauhati High Court, Kohima Bench in 2015, prompting the latter to stay the permit issued to Metropolitan Oil and Gas Private Limited (MOGPL) who had secured permits to extract oil in Peren and Wokha, which were among 11 oil and gas zones.

Fixation of royalty, tax issues and revenue sharing were the issues involved, with the court observing inconsistencies in the permit process and viewing that the permit in favour of MOGPL was both legally and constitutionally “questionable.” The permit continues to be stayed.

On December 15, it was reported that the Government of Nagaland and the Lotha Hoho appeared close to finding an amicable way forward. An MoU was signed between the two entities to amend the NPNG Rules and Regulations, with a revised version to be presented to the Lotha Hoho soon for approval.

Soon after, on December 17, Nagaland MP to the Lok Sabha, Tokheho Yepthomi posed a question in Parliament on whether oil is being extracted along the Assam/Nagaland boundary and the quantum of oil extracted so far.

In his reply, the Union Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Dharmendra Pradhan reportedly did not give “any details on the quantum of oil extracted along Assam – Nagaland boundary.”

If revenue is shared properly, the stakeholder communities are provided with sustainable benefits, and if extraction is done safely, oil extraction would do a lot to alleviate the state’s financial conundrums.

However in Nagaland, from the sad Tuli Paper Mill story to the Doyang Hydro Electric Project, large scale private-public partnerships have a sketchy track record of delivering benefits to the people who matter the most in these types of deals.

Also notice in this narrative that all the talking is being done by the state and stakeholders. Those who would actually drill and extract the oil, and will be given the responsibility to do it in a safe, sustainable manner have been eerily silent.

As tin-foil conspiracy laced as it may seem, corporations in the shadows are a real thing.

Comments can be sent to imlisanenjamir@gmail.com