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Japan offers funds to repair forest assets

Gangtok, Feb. 3: The Sikkim forest department will receive Rs 13.12 crore from a Japanese government agency to rebuild the infrastructure damaged in last year’s earthquake.

The amount has been sanctioned by the Japanese International Co-operation Agency that is funding a project to ensure alternative livelihood for people living on forest fringes in Sikkim.

The release of the amount was announced by JICA representative Vineet Sarin during a review of the Sikkim Biodiversity Conservation and Forest Management Project (SBFP) here today. The Rs 330.57 crore project is being executed by the forest department.

“The JICA is extremely sad about what happened in Sikkim on September 18. Although the release of Rs 13.12 crore was not in the original project, it is something which the JICA has offered to the forest department. There has been a lot of destruction and the JICA would like to support the department in whatever way possible within the parameters of the project to restore the damaged infrastructure,” said Sarin.

The Sikkim government and the JICA had signed an agreement in March 2010 to implement the project. Scores of people died and properties worth crores of rupees were destroyed when an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale rocked the state on September 18 last year.

Senior forest officers said the quake had caused damage to buildings, staff quarters and check posts of the department across the state.

Sarin said it was imperative that infrastructure was in place to boost the institutional capacity of the forest department. “The major aim of the SBFP is to provide economic benefits to people living on the fringes of forests and reduce their dependency on the forest. The forest department should have the infrastructure in place to achieve the goals,” he said.

With the JICA agreeing to fund the restoration of the forest infrastructure, the department has withdrawn a request seeking financial assistance from the Union government for the same.

“When the government was communicated about the JICA’s funds approval on January 12, the forest department informed the Centre that it no longer required money to repair the properties,” said SBFP director and additional principal chief conservator of forests Anil Mainra.

The SBFP was initially conceived for 10 years to start eco-tourism activities for the communities living in forest fringe areas, conserve bio-diversity and strengthen the forest infrastructure.

“We have increased the tenure of the project by two years as more needs to be done for the bio-diversity conservation of Sikkim. The project will be of immense benefit to Sikkim and ensure the scientific management of the forests. The benefits of the eco-tourism will percolate down to the local people,” said Sarin.