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Nagaland a treasure trove of petrol

Monday 2 May 2005

KOHIMA: Nagaland may be industrially and economically backward because of its dragging insurgency but the Nagas are in no real hurry to tap the vast natural resources lying beneath their feet in northeastern India.

Nagaland is virtually sitting on a multi-million-dollar oil reserve, with rough estimates indicating that the state has the potential to yield about 600 million tonnes of petroleum.

"It is true that the state is a treasure trove of oil and natural gas riches, besides other unexploited minerals.

But our state has its own unique history that prevents us from going all out from tapping these natural resources," said Nagaland Industry Minister Khekhiho Zhimomi.

Unlike other Indian states, Nagaland enjoys a special status under the country’s constitution.

Landholders own the land and its natural resources. The government has no say in acquiring property for commercial exploitation.

The tribal Nagas still hold on to many primitive beliefs and views, and people not yet ready for allowing the resources to be tapped.

"We will be left with no land to stay once oil companies and other firms come in for exploration of the natural resources in our state," said T Lotha, a village elder.

Joining the locals in their bid to prevent exploratory firms from setting foot in Nagaland is the influential National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) led by guerrilla leaders Isak Chishi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah.

The NSCN has warned state-owned oil giant Oil and Natural Gas Corp Ltd (ONGCL) against venturing in any exploration work in the state. The ONGCL and the Nagaland government had recently signed an agreement to develop certain oilfields in the state.

"We cannot allow ONGCL to exploit our natural resources," a NSCN statement said.

The resistance from the locals and the NSCN, a rebel group fighting for a Naga homeland, has virtually ended all hopes for exploiting the natural resources which in turn could have changed the economic face of this otherwise backward state.

"We have been trying to bring about a consensus among various civil society groups and tribal councils for exploiting and exploration of crude oil and other minerals," the minister said.

"Nagas are not against exploration and but it should be done in a manner where the local people are benefited substantially and not exploited."

The vast oil potentials apart, Nagaland is rich in coal, limestone, nickel, cobalt, chromium, magnetite, copper, zinc and platinum, besides marble and granite.

The Nagaland government has recently adopted the Minor Minerals Policy to make possible exploration work in the region.

US, Canadian, German and French oil companies have expressed interest in buying crude oil rights to develop Nagaland’s reserves.

But student protests and threats of guerrilla attacks have forced the companies to back off, leaving the oil trapped in a dispute between tribal leaders and rebel fighters on one side and the state and New Delhi on the other.

"We shall continue to be paupers and beggars until and unless we allow the resources to be tapped and exploited.

Ignorant community leaders and other groups are not allowing this to happen, pushing the state to a point of no return," said a young tribal Naga management graduate requesting anonymity.

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