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Sonowal's concern for Dehing-Patkai Sanctuary

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal must be congratulated for the deep concern he has shown towards the protection


Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  20 July 2020 5:31 AM GMT

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal must be congratulated for the deep concern he has shown towards the protection, conservation and promotion of the Dehing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in the past few days. It was on July 6 that Sonowal had first announced his government's decision to upgrade Dehing-Patkai – an abode of a wide variety of flora and fauna – from a Wildlife Sanctuary to a National Park. Sonowal's decision had come in the backdrop of widespread protests over the National Board of Wildlife's (NBWL) unjustified approval for coal mining in an elephant reserve close to the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. It is a fact that a large portion of the Patkai mountain – which also has a lot of historical and strategic importance for the Assamese people – has been destroyed by way of unabated coal mining that was going on since the time of Dr Berry White establishing the Assam Railway & Trading Company, which in the 1970s merged with the public sector Coal India Ltd. Also an important elephant habitat, it was in 1992 that the Ministry of Environment and Forests had declared Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve under Project Elephant, following which it was declared as a wildlife sanctuary on June 13, 2004. Located in the Dehing Patkai landscape which is a dipterocarp-dominated lowland rainforest, the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is part of Dehing Patkai Rainforest, which once upon a time had stretched out up to Mariani where its remnants today constitute the Holongapar Gibbon Sanctuary. Home to free-ranging populations of wild Asian Elephants, Dehing-Patkai in reality deserves international importance, and the National Board of Wildlife should have respected this aspect of the landscape while granting approval for coal mining within the larger landscape area. On Saturday, July 18, Chief Minister Sonowal took a very bold step by constituting a one-man inquiry commission headed by retired judge of Gauhati High Court Justice BP Kataki to probe into the illegal coal mining activities in the Dehing-Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. The Commission has been given six months with the mandate to conduct a probe into both legal and illegal coal-mining activities in the Sanctuary happening since 2003. The inquiry will take into account the Saleki Proposed Reserved Forest (PRF) under Digboi Forest Division, including the Tikok Open Cast Project of Coal India Limited too. While the Commission has been also asked to inquire and identify organization(s) and individual(s) responsible for undertaking such illegal mining activities, if any, in and around the aforesaid forest area, it will probably bring to fore several bitter truths, especially with allegations that several big names including politicians, government (forest and police) officers and self-styled public leaders have been involved knee-deep in the exploitation of Dehing-Patkai.

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