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Green glare on two projects

- Wildlife board wants Assam and Tripura sites inspected as Gibbon struggles to minimise conflict
An elephant with her calf at Dehing Patkai wildlife sanctuary. File picture

Guwahati, Nov. 24: The standing committee of the National Board for Wildlife has called for site inspection reports of two projects — one in Assam and the other in Tripura — after wildlife concerns were raised against them.

The project in Assam involves drilling for oil well within 10km of the boundary of Dehing Patkai wildlife sanctuary and the one in Tripura involves diversion of 9.94 hectares of forest land from Trishna wildlife sanctuary to build a new broad-gauge railway line between Agartala and Sabroom.

The permission of the board is necessary for undertaking any activity within 10km of a protected area.

Sources said members of the wildlife board are concerned about the oil exploration project because Dehing Patkai wildlife sanctuary is home to several endangered species such as the hoolock gibbon, Asian elephant, white-winged wood duck and is home to at least seven cat species — including The Royal Bengal tiger.

The 111.19 square km sanctuary, which is part of the Dehing Patkai elephant reserve, is located in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts and borders Arunachal Pradesh. It is famous for the tropical wet evergreen forests of the Assam valley and is rich in wildlife.

Prerna Bindra, member of the wildlife board, said satellite maps indicated that one of the drill sites was even closer to the sanctuary than indicated in the proposal and was of particular concern. She mentioned that there were other concerns regarding the impact of the proposed drilling on wildlife.

“The issue in this particular region is that there are oil rigs all over, and one needs to consider their cumulative impact. One important thing is that the old drilling sites are abandoned, and these should be decommissioned, and restored to the forest,” she said at a meeting of the wildlife board, the minutes of which have been made public by the ministry of environment and forests recently.

Another member, A.J.T. Johnsingh, mentioned that recent studies conducted by biologist Kashmira Kakati had recorded the presence of tigers in the nearby forests.

M.K. Ranjitsinh, an expert on Indian wildlife and another board member, mentioned that although this was an exploratory drilling exercise, the alternatives and mitigation steps, in case oil is struck, need to be understood.

On the Tripura project, Ranjitsinh mentioned that Trishna sanctuary had more primates than any other protected area in the country. He suggested that the portion cut off by the railway line — which is around 25-30 square km — could be de-notified and an equal area could be added to the protected area.

A.K. Gupta, Tripura’s chief wildlife warden, said the railway line passes through the northeastern edge of the sanctuary, which entirely consists of rubber plantations and is devoid of rich biodiversity. The proposed railway line shall also be a strategic line, which will provide rail connectivity up to the Bangladesh international border, he added.

He said there was no wildlife close to the proposed railway line.