Indo-Asian News Service
Duliajan (Assam), May 24, 2006
Crude oil production in Assam was hit for the second straight day on Wednesday following violent protests by contractual workers who set ablaze three oil pits overnight, officials said.
"Our operations are affected at various installations due to the workers agitation although we are not in a position to immediately quantify the volume of production loss," a senior official of the state-owned Oil India Limited (OIL) said requesting anonymity.
Police and OIL officials said the agitating workers late Tuesday set on fire three oil pits and damaged a few installations.
"The fire and the subsequent agitation have forced us to shut down operations in several installations with the agitating workers threatening our regular employees who were in the field," the OIL official said.
Hundreds of contractual workers have launched an agitation demanding a hike in wages and regularisation of nearly 1,400 unskilled workers as permanent OIL employees.
"These workers are engaged by various contractors since 1986 and it is not fair on the part of the OIL authorities to treat them shabbily. There should be some parity in the pay structure and other benefits given to the regular employees and the contractual workers," Rameshwar Teli, the local legislator of Dulijan, the OIL headquarters in eastern Assam, said.
OIL officials said they were trying to hold negotiations with the striking workers break the impasse.
On Monday, police clashed with the agitating workers wounding at least 70 and arresting 13. "At least a dozen policemen and a magistrate were among those injured in the clash when the workers threatened to storm vital oil installations," a police official said.
Last month, oil operations were halted following protests by some local groups demanding a Rs 4 billion economic development package from India’s premier exploration firm.
India produces about 30 million tonnes of crude oil annually, with Assam accounting for about five million tonnes of the total. OIL produces about 3.5 million tonnes of crude in Assam annually.
Assam has over 1.3 billion tonnes of proven crude oil and 156 billion cubic meters of natural gas reserves of which about an estimated 58 per cent of these hydrocarbon reserves are yet to be explored. The northeastern state currently produces about five million cubic meters of natural gas annually.
Frequent protests and strike calls by student groups and separatists have severely hampered crude oil production in the insurgency-hit state of 26 million people.
Militants in Assam have often targeted oil and gas installations - at least a dozen crude and gas pipelines were blown up by rebels of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) in the run-up to this year’s Republic Day celebrations Jan 26.