The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is located in Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of Assam, and it covers 111.19 sq. km. This rare rainforest is situated in the foothills of the Himalayan range. It is a part of the Assam valley tropical wet evergreen forest. Dehing is a river that flows through it, and Patkai is the hill on the foot of which the river flows. It was declared as a sanctuary on June 13, 2004.
This Sanctuary is also a part of Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve. Dehing-Patkai forms the largest stretch of tropical lowland rainforests in India. The forest is often referred to as the 'Amazon of the East' owing to its expanse and thick forest.
FAUNA: Being a virgin rainforest, this Sanctuary is rich in biodiversity. Till date, 47 mammal species, 47 reptile species and 30 butterfly species have been recorded.
Among the rare fauna found in this region are Chinese pangolin, flying fox, wild pig, sambar, barking deer, serow and Malayan, giant squirrels etc. It is the only sanctuary in India which is home to seven different species wildcats. The primate of Assamese macaque, found in the forest, is in the list of 'Near Threatened Species'.
This rainforest harbours about 293 bird species belonging to 174 genera and 51 families.
FLORA: The different trees of this four-layer rain forest are laden with many exotic species of orchids and bromeliads. There is an abundance of ferns, epiphytes, wild banana, orchids, arums, climbers etc in this humid forest habitat. The Dehing-Patkai Forest of Assam is important in terms of orchid diversity as well.
THE ISSUE: Amid the nationwide lockdown since April 17 this year, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) constituted in 2003 under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, permitted coal mining in a part of the Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve in Assam. This allows the use of 98.59 hectares of land of the Sanctuary for coal mining by Coal India Limited.
In July 2019, the NBWL formed a committee to have a detailed study on the mining sector vis-a-vis its possible impact on wildlife. The committee has R. Sukumar, a representative of the Wildlife division and State Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam as a member.
THE NATIONAL BOARD FOR WILDLIFE: This Board formed in 2003 under the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEFCC) is chaired by the Prime Minister. It must also have clear opinion of the Chief Wildlife Warden and the State Government in consultation with the State Board for Wildlife. The board is 'advisory' in nature, and can only advice the Government policy-making for conservation of wildlife. However, the standing committee of NBWL was chaired by the Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
'AMAZON OF THE EAST' IS UNDER THREAT: Most of the mining operations carried out are underground and open cast like drilling, blasting, extraction, transportation and crashing. Such operations damage the environment and ecology to an unacceptable extent.
As a part of the process of clearing away for coal mine, trees are cut down or burnt, plants uprooted and the top soil scrapped away. This results in the destruction of the land (it can no longer be used for planting) and soil erosion.
The loosened top can be washed down by rains and the sediments get into rivers, streams and other waterways. Downstream, they kill fish, plants and block river channels which cause flooding.
For coal mining, deforestation is required to clear areas that will destroy the flora of Dehing-Patkai; and when it comes to fauna without flora they will lose their habitat that will make them come out of the sanctuary, leading to increased man-animal conflicts. It is known as an elephant reserve, and the man-elephant conflict has been an issue for decades in Assam.
Moreover, the noise pollution during mining will also be a threat animals. It will lead to a biodiversity loss which will endanger the species living there. It will affect the climate as well. The place will lose its essence as a wildlife sanctuary.
Seleki, a part of the Dehing Patkai Reserved Forest, is also home to thousands of butterfly species. Mining activities will forever destroy their safe habitat.
CONCLUSION: The National Mineral Policy, the Supreme Court of India and many researches besides reports have already warned us about the ill-effects of coal mining in environment and ecology.
Being citizens of the world's largest democracy it's our duty to protect our national resources. It's our moral and ethical duty to save Mother Nature and save Dehing Patkai.