Golaghat, Jan. 21: The National Green Tribunal order on Tuesday for the demolition of eateries along the stretch of National Highway 37, which passes through Kaziranga National Park, will be challenged on the ground of its "adverse impact" on the local economy.
Animesh Saikia, a social activist and chief co-ordinator of Greater Kaziranga Human Resource and Environment Protection Committee, told The Telegraph this evening, "Every time it was us, the residents of Kaziranga, behind the successful conservation story of Kaziranga National Park. First, it was the denotification of the highway stretch, which wreaked havoc on the livelihood of six to seven lakh people living on this stretch of the national highway and now it is the tribunal's demolition order. We will challenge this order in the apex court."
The order has cast a pall of gloom in the area as the fate of more than 100 dhabas and shops along the 66.2km stretch from Bokakhat to Jakhalabandha now hangs in the balance.
The tribunal's order says, "We make it clear that all the shops and dhabas run within 100 metres from the end of the national highway or are located in the forest/protected area, or the bridges constructed within 500 metres of the national park, would be liable to be demolished."
"We issue a showcause notice to all the respondents to file their respective replies in that regard. The director, Kaziranga National Park, has already dealt with this application. The ministry of environment and forests and climate change will take clear instruction on the matter and file an affidavit within 10 days from today," it added.
Pawan Goswami, the owner of Maa Kali Dhaba, a roadside eatery established in 1983, said, "It is us, the public, who provide shelter to animals that come out of the national park during the flood. There is not a single instance of an animal being killed in any dhaba. If the said order comes into effect we are going to face a very dark future. The tribunal should undertake a field inquiry on its own and see for itself whether the dhabas and shops really pose any danger to the national park. It will affect the booming tourism industry."
"Now we are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping the state government presents our plight before the tribunal," Goswami said. The inspection report prepared by Kaziranga field director M.K. Yadava said corridors all along the national highway have been highly fragmented over the past 100 years.
There were three large corridors on National Highway 37 but in course of time, these got fragmented. A survey in August last year found that there were 11 fragmented corridors from Jakhlabanda to Bokakhat. It added that the main cause of concern was the drastic change of land use surrounding the park from agricultural to commercial purposes.
Assam forest minister Atuwa Munda said the state government would abide by the tribunal's order but did not set a timeframe.
"We will have to abide by the tribunal's order but we cannot set any deadline as we will have to take stock of the situation and proceed according to rules. We also have to issue notices to those affected," Munda told The Telegraph.
Sources said the tribunal's order has come at a time when the state is headed for polls.
"Government staff are engaged in the election and NRC update process. Demolition is a sensitive issue. The government is unlikely to do anything in hurry. It may seek time till after the elections," a source added.
Additional reporting by our Guwahati bureau