Declared a sanctuary on 13 June 2004, Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, is located in the Dibrugarh and Tinsukia Districts of Assam, it covers an area of 111.19 kilometer square. The sanctuary with the largest stretches of lowlands is facing threat in the present scenario due to the government’s intervention in allowing mining in its land. Due to it Assam is witnessing several protests.
Flora, Fauna and Climate of Dehing Patkai Sanctuary
Being completely a vast rainforest, the Dehing Patkai is very rich in its biodiversity. Its serves as an ideal habitat to all the till now discovered species there, which are, 47 mammal species, 47 reptile species, 310 butterfly species and 293 bird species. With a good population of elephants, a part of Dehing Patkai rainforest, was declared as Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve under Project Elephant.
Some of the most famous species of this sanctuary are Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, gaur, and Chinese pangolin, crab eating mongoose, slow loris, sun bear, porcupine, Assamese macaque, stump-tailed macaque, Himalayan black bear, sambar, capped langur, hoolock gibbon, red giant flying squirrel, Indian leopard, leopard cat, clouded leopard, binturong, barking deer, Asian golden cat and marbled cat.
There exists about 293 bird species, belonging to 174 genera and 51 families. Out of them majority is resident, some are winter visitor and very few are summer visitors. About 10.7% are altitudinal migrants; they mainly come from the western, central and eastern Himalayas.
The sanctuary is blessed with exotic species of trees. The orchids and bromeliads are spread all over the rainforest. The abundance of various types of ferns, arums, climbers, epiphytes, linens and tall trees serve as homes to various large and small species of animals.
Some important species of trees here are hollang, mekai, dhuna, nahar, bheer, nahor, and au – tenga (elephant apple). The various species of wood in the sanctuary are dipterocarpus mancrocarpus, mesua ferrea, and vatica lanceaefolia. The shrub and herb layer has alpine spp, glochidion spp, wild banana, tree fern, pepper, Mallotus phillippinensis, etc.
The climate of the sanctuary is mostly tropical and the rainforest experiences an annual rainfall of more than 4000 mm. the monthly precipitation is at least 60 mm.
In quest for Coal extraction, Dehing Patkai gasping for life
The present scenario is not very good for the sanctuary. The government of Assam allowance of doing mining at Dehing Patkai by Coal India Ltd led to the massive protests all over in the streets of Assam and the issue also picked voice in national & international media.
There are two protests taking place paralleling in Assam. One is on social media and other on the streets of Margherita. One is to save the wildlife and environment and other is to save Coal India Limited (CIL) and the livelihood of around 2,000 people.
As per the official reports from government, The Coal India Ltd had been illegally mining in the Dehing Patkai wild life sanctuary since 2003 for which the body has sought permits & clearance in year 2012. In 1973, for the first time government granted Coal India Ltd to mine in the region. However the permit expires in 2003. CIL’s subsidiary NE Coalfield continues mining even after permit expires which is illegal.
The government of Assam provided the CIL for first stage clearance to mine 57 hectares in Dec 2019 with several conditions. However CIL anonymously applied for clearance again to mine 98.59 hectares where the CIL was already carrying out mining activities in 73 hectares.
Illegal mining with rat-holes dug are found in the sanctuary by the team of forest officials. The residents claim that this type of activities has been filling the pockets of many for the past ten or even more years.
Due to government’s move many people have started an online campaign with the hash tag ‘SaveDehingPatkai.’ To mention the North-Eastern Coalfields (NEC), a unit of Coal India Limited in Assam, has temporary halted its operations due to protests but in all this people have forgotten to keep the rule of social distancing amidst in this crucial situation of coronavirus. Meanwhile the Guwahati High Court has taken up a suo Moto case against the mining activities happening in Dehing.
For instance, a group of 291 scientists, experts, environmentalists, activists, former members of NBWL (National Board of Wild Life, have written to Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change expressing the concern over the wildlife and rare species. The subject is of utter importance and is being viewed over and is being discussed over by the expert panels in their meetings via video conference during this lockdown.
Sharp rise in Respiratory problems of local populance due to mining
Mining activities in Dehing Patkai has been killing lungs of Northeast. Coal Mining has been degrading the natural environment. Due to illegal mining, massive dust and noise pollution can be witnesses in nearby areas of wild life sanctuary. Usually the miners leave the mines open after cutting of coal seams. In last one decade, cases of respiratory disease have taken sharp rise which is major point of concerns.
Chief Minister of Assam called for inquiry of illegal mining
CM Shri @sarbanandsonwal has constituted an one-man inquiry commission of former Gauhati High Court Judge Shri Brajendra Prasad Katakey.
The commission will investigate allegations of illegal coal mining and destruction of biodiversity in #DehingPatkai since 2003.
— Chief Minister Assam (@CMOfficeAssam) July 18, 2020
Due to ongoing huge opposition by public and media reports, on July 18, 2020, the chief minister of Assam called for an inquiry for undergoing illegal coal extraction at the Dehing patkai Wildlife Sanctury. The CM ordered to form a investigating committee which will be headed by the judge of Guwahati High Court to find out the stock of situation in Sanctuary and trace the violation of rules. The Chief Minister reiterated that his government is sincerely committed to protect the biodiversity & environment of the state would not do any kind of compromise in name of developments.
Author: Anjali Lavania
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