Assam rebels aim آ‘taxآ’ at companies working in state

Vol 10, PW 12 (05 Oct 06) People & Policy

Anyone exploring for oil or gas in Indias volatile northeast will have good reason to be worried.

In Assam, sporadic gun battles have erupted between government troops and separatists since Delhi broke off a fragile ceasefire with the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) on 24th September. Last Friday ULFA signalled its intentions in the clearest possible terms when it blew up a 10-inch gas pipeline belonging to Oil India near Salmari in Dibrugarh district.

Worse, ULFA has issued a statement announcing a formal tax on all Indian nationals and companies working in Assam. ULFA military chief Paresh Barua tells PETROWATCH that no business, Indian or foreign, will be spared.

This is our oil and our gas, says Barua. India has no right to exploit it.

Anybody commercially utilising Assams oil and gas will have to pay tax to ULFA. ULFA brands Delhi an occupation force and claims to be the legitimate representative of the Assamese people.

Oil companies working in Assam have suffered ULFA extortion for several years but over the past year hopes were high of an improvement in relations amid informal peace talks with Delhi. Now we will get formal tax notices from ULFA, says a worried ONGC official in Assam.

We will be targeted because we cannot pay. ONGC believes ULFA will target seismic parties who go into remote areas to carry out surveys; drill sites in remote areas; production facilities and pipelines carrying oil and gas from ONGC production units.

So concerned is ONGC by the ceasefire breakdown that it is carrying out a wholesale review of its security in the state. Even Oil India, traditionally considered an Assamese company, fears more pressure from separatists.

ULFA will be more vicious, we hear. They will target tea as well as oil and gas.

These two industries are the mainstay of Assam. Fighters from ULFAs feared 28th Battalion are active in parts of Upper Assam near ONGCs regional base at Nazira and Oil Indias HQ at Duliajan.

Intelligence officials blame the 28th Battalion for blowing up local pipelines.