Dehing Patkai: What has caused a threat to ‘Amazon of East’?

SIGNIFICANCE OF SANCTUARY: The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of Assam which covers 111.19 sq. km. This rare rainforest is situated in the foothills of the Himalayan range. It is a part of the Assam valley tropical wet evergreen forest. Dehing is a river that flows through it, and Patkai is the hill on the foot of which the river flows. It was declared as a sanctuary on June 13, 2004.

It is home to over 40 species of fauna including elephants, several varieties of big cats, bears and the famous Assam Macaque, over 300 species of birds, over 40 species of reptiles, over 60 types of trees, and over 100 varieties of orchids.

It is often referred to as the ‘Amazon of the East’ owing to its expanse and thick forest.

Among the rare fauna found in this region are Chinese pangolin, flying fox, wild pig, sambar, barking deer, serow and Malayan, giant squirrels, etc. It is the only sanctuary in India which is home to seven different species of wildcats. The primate of Assamese macaque, found in the forest, is in the list of ‘Near Threatened Species’.

There is an abundance of ferns, epiphytes, wild banana, orchids, arums, climbers, etc in this humid forest habitat. The Dehing-Patkai Forest of Assam is important in terms of orchid diversity as well.

THE ISSUE: Amid the nationwide lockdown since April 17 this year, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) constituted in 2003 under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, permitted coal mining in a part of the Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve in Assam which allowed the use of 98.59 hectares of land of the Sanctuary for coal mining by Coal India Limited.

THE ECOLOGICAL RAMIFICATIONS: It is feared that drilling, blasting, extraction, transportation and crashing operations, noise pollution, etc. may damage the environment and ecology to an unacceptable extent. It may destroy the flora of Dehing-Patkai; and loss of animal habitat leading to man-animal conflicts vis a vis man-elephant conflict.

Further, trees may be cut down or burnt, the topsoil may be scrapped leading to soil erosion which may clog the rivers, streams, and other waterways killing fish, plants as also block river channels and may cause flooding.

THE WIDESPREAD AGITATION: This has led to vigorous protest amid lockdown for rolling it back. Amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown, stakeholders in Assam have shrilled their protests both on the streets and on social media platforms against the Centre’s decision. Petitions have been filed in the High Court of Guwahati to declare Dehing Patkai as a heritage site under the Biological Diversity Act, 2002. All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) has threatened to launch a statewide agitation if the decision is not reversed. From India’s Forest Man & Padma Shri awardee Jadav Payeng and actor Adil Hussain to singer Angarag Papon Mahanta, wildlife activists and environmentalists have criticized the National Board for Wildlife’s (NBWL) decision to allow mining of coal in the Dehing Patkai rainforest. People of Assam have also launched online protests against the Centre’s decision under the banner of “Save Dehing Patkai” and “Save Amazon of East” among others.

THE RESPONSE OF STATE: Meanwhile State Govt. has affirmed its commitment to protecting the environment and biodiversity of the state and directed to conduct a field study of the present condition of the wildlife sanctuary and apprise the government.

SALIENT POINTS TO PONDER OVER: India has one of the largest coal reserves in the world at 300 billion tonnes and it imports a fifth of its annual requirement to meet major consumers — the power, steel & cement sector demands. It’s high time to have a firm radical policy shift toward renewable energy resources and resort to higher eco-friendly energy resources. Privatization rather may bring in its wake fears of the mines spilling unchecked into protected forests.

A small neighbor like Bhutan has 64% forest cover whereas we are at about 21% only and most of it is open and degraded forest. The way animals are getting endangered and extinct over the years, it is almost impossible to quantify their loss in financial terms.

Anyhow lest the succeeding generations may not pardon, our reserve forests, Sanctuaries, and ecological reserves must be protected and conserved as an asset to be handed over to the posterity in pristine conditions.

Contributed By- Siddhart Jangid, Content Writer @ Mitti Ke Rang

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