The Telegraph
Thursday , January 9 , 2014
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Plea for plan to relocate villagers

Dibru-Saikhowa National Park in Tinsukia.
Picture by Debasish Roy

Guwahati, Jan. 8: The standing committee of National Board for Wildlife has urged the Assam forest department and Tinsukia district administration to develop a relocation plan for two villages of Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.

Two members of the standing committee — M.D. Madhusudan and Prerna Singh Bindra — had visited the national park in connection with the laying of oil and gas pipelines through Upper Assam.

“We understand that the villagers of Laikha and Dadhia are keen to move out of the park as they are living under extreme hardships with constant threats of flooding and human-wildlife conflict, among others. After the huge floods of 2012, which devastated the villages, we understand that all families have expressed in writing their willingness to move out of the park, following which the park officials have started the process of identifying land for relocation. However, the process is not going to be easy, as the relocation exercise will require considerable land, besides funds for the process itself,” the committee said, in its report on strengthening conservation in Dibru-Saikhowa National Park.

There are two villages, Laikha and Dadhia, inside the park, spread over 50 square km, with a population of 2,132 and a livestock population reported to be over one lakh, exerting tremendous pressure on the park.

“The status of these two villages is also an issue. These villages were included as forest villages when Dibru-Saikhowa was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1986 but not when it was notified as a national park in 1999. This serious historical oversight on the part of the Assam forest department today renders management efforts, including negotiations into the possibility of voluntary relocations, very challenging,” the committee said.

Dibru-Saikhowa is an important habitat for endangered species such as the Gangetic dolphin, tiger, elephant, wild buffaloes and the Bengal florican, among others, as well as the endemic black-breasted parrotbill.

It is also one of the protected areas, identified as a potential site for rhino relocation under the India Rhino Vision 2020.

The committee said revenue land to this extent is reportedly unavailable and other options and avenues need to be explored, including allocation of degraded forestland, acquisition of defunct tea estates, and others in accordance with existing laws.

“We strongly suggest that the Assam forest department and the Tinsukia district administration, in consultation with the villagers of Laikha and Dadhia, develop a relocation plan, and we urge the state and central governments to provide all support possible to implement it,” the committee recommended.

The state must undertake to take a review of the current sanctioned strength, which is insufficient, as well as provision of additional and trained staff.

“While the exploration of possibilities and consent for voluntary resettlement is under way, additional staff strength can also be drawn from Laikha and Dadhia to contribute to local livelihoods there, and to secure their support and goodwill for conservation during the time they continue to reside within the national park,” it said.

Apart from calling for release of funds for the park in time, the committee sought an improvement in infrastructure and encouragement of research.

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