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Former Ulfa militants turn friends of nature

- Duo set up botanical garden in Morigaon, employ 150 youths to look after trees

Guwahati, June 29: They put away the guns to take up the spade.

Two former Ulfa militants along with a group of nature lovers have set up a botanical garden on a 150-bigha patch of hilly terrain at Tarani Kalbari in Morigaon district, with close to 200 varieties of trees, some of which even face the threat of extinction.

Tarani Kalbari, in the Bogora Chariali area, is nearly 70km from Guwahati.

They have also formed an NGO, New Evergreen Earth, engaging 150 unemployed youths in the conservation of the trees.

The garden, set up in 2008, also houses several local fruits and orchids, apart from a variety of rare trees.

The former militants, Sidananda Kalita and Ratan Deka, in their early forties now, did not know each other until they met in 2005 and discovered a common interest — nature.

“After coming to the mainstream in 2000, I decided to start life afresh and pursue an activity that I always wanted to. I joined Digboi Refinery in 2002 and thereafter, moved over to Guwahati Refinery, where I now work as a contractor. I have set up three eco parks in the refinery. I came across Ratan and four other nature lovers in 2005 and after our ideas matched, we decided to form an NGO,” Sidananda, who had served the proscribed outfit for two years, told The Telegraph.

The members have so far pooled in Rs 40 lakh, over nearly a decade now.

“Funds have been a challenge for us and to make sure that the flow does not stop, we have also set up poultry farms and started activities such as duck rearing and goat rearing. The youths that we have employed against a daily wage of Rs 170, are from four nearby villages,” he said.

As of now, the plot owned by the government is yet to be allotted to the NGO.

“We have applied for its allotment and expect the same soon,” he added.

A resident of Kolongpar in Morigaon, Ratan served the outfit for six years as a sergeant till his arrest in 2003.

“I was a farmer before I joined Ulfa. Deep within myself I had a burning desire for conservation of nature. I can say I am happy as there was no future in the outfit,” Ratan, who also runs a brick kiln business, said.

Sidananda echoed his views and said, “I was told by a well-wisher in Tinsukia where I grew up that there was no future in the outfit. Now I cannot agree with him more.”

The NGO has also weaned away villagers from an activity that posed a threat to wildlife on a 600-bigha plot adjacent to the garden.

“Since the past three years they have stopped killing wild birds, porcupines and deer for food. That’s after we intervened and provided jobs to some of their family members,” he said.


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