(The writer is from Gauhati University. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
Naturalism theory says nature knows best, the highest value is to respect the natural order of things, human disruption of nature is evil, trying to improve on nature will only bring destruction. If, we go through the theory and practically apply it to the prevailing situation, the theory says how nature's exploitation is human's own destruction. The COVID-1919 virus came out to be a man-made destruction which is disturbing the eco-system as a whole. The humans are the worst affected, the destruction of biodiversity and ecosystem services had reached levels that already threaten the climatic change on earth and now the man-made disasters are on the verge of putting an end to human life form the earth. Nature is blooming in its own state amidst the prevalent circumstances. Naturalism has proven to be above humanism as humanism has crossed all limits of exploiting nature.
This period of isolation or lockdown for humans has turned out to be boon for the nature. The nature is breathing, as the air pollution is somewhere decreasing.
However, it seems the mankind is still not bothered to destroy nature in spite of nature hitting us hard.
Many wild animals are killed around the country. The wildlife is facing huge trouble of fodder and therefore coming out of their already messed habitat in search of food but in return is only getting harmed.
The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is a complete tourist destination all by itself. It takes several hours to explore the forest which is full of wide varieties of animals and plants. It is a paradise for wildlife lovers, especially the birdwatchers.
The Dihing-Patkai Festival is held once a year. It has been named after the majestic Patkai range and the mischievous Dihing river. The festival is organized by the Government of Assam to provide fun and feast to the tourists visiting the sanctuary.
The Dehing-Patkai region is already threatened by high polluting industries, such as coal mines, oil refineries, gas drilling etc, affecting the biodiversity there.
The NBWL (The National Board for Wildlife) has allowed the coal mining project on April 7, 2020, but illegal mining of coal has been carried out by the coal mafias in the forest for long, affecting the biodiversity of this virgin forestland remarked by the environmental activists.
The Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve — of which Saleki is a part — is the largest rainforest in India. It stretches for 575 square km across Tinsukia, Dibrugarh and Sivasagar districts in upper Assam. This virgin forestland is also referred to as the 'Amazon of the East'. The biodiversity of this forestland is very rich and unique.
Among the varied animal species living here are the hoolock gibbon, slow loris , pig-tailed macaque, stump-tailed macaque, capped langur, Indian leopard, Asian elephant, Bengal tiger, gaur, Chinese pangolin, Himalayan black bear, Himalayan squirrel, leopard cat, clouded leopard, porcupine, crab-eating mongoose, sambar, sun bear, binturong, barking deer, golden cat, marbled cat etc. The Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve hosts around 293 different species of birds as well. Among the common reptiles found here are the rock python, king cobra, Asian leaf turtle, monitor lizard etc. Moreover, as many as 30 species of butterflies and over 100 species of orchids thrive in this beautiful tropical vegetation.
Amidst the nationwide lockdown in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) in its 56th meeting held on April 7, 2020 through video conferencing under the chair of the Prakash Javedkar, the Chairman of NBWL and the Minister of Forest, Environment and Climate Change of India approved a coal-mining project in the Saleki proposed reserve forest which is a part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve. The NBWL's standing committee had discussed the proposal for use of 98.59 hectares of land of Saleki, proposed for a coal mining project by North Eastern Coal Field (NECF) — a unit of Coal India Limited— and gave nod to it. The NBWL is under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).
This recommendation for coal mining in the forest by the NBWL has been strongly opposed by the nature lovers, environmental activists and NGOs. The protestors have opined that while giving permission for coal mining in the forest, the NBWL has overlooked the fact that this is a 'Protected Area' and that 'it should be conserved and protected from any destructive activities to ensure the country's ecological and environmental security'.
Concerned over the matter of coal mining in Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, Gauhati University Eco Club has started a campaign digitally to create awareness and save the sanctuary from further damage. A significant step has been taken by the Gauhati University Postgraduate Students' Union (GUPGSU) in the form of a digital media campaign with the help of posters, videos, slogans to raise voice against the issue of coal mining in Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary through the social media to reach more people. The union has urged the people concerned to take part in this campaign by writing #SaveDehingPatkai and to post it on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Many students from the University have come up in support with the cause through art, videos and posters as a medium of protest and awareness towards the grave issue.
The only rainforest in Assam, Dehing Patkai is located partly in Dibrugarh and partly in Tinsukia district. It is spread over an area of 111.19 sq. km and belongs to Assam's wet tropical evergreen forest category.
The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary has three parts and they are Dirok rainforest, upper Dihing River, and Jeypore. It got the sanctuary status in 2004. It also happens to be a part of the Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve. Apart from wild animals, there is a lot to see here around this place. World War II cemeteries, Digboi Oil Refinery (the oldest in the country), and the Stillwell Road are also located in the close proximity here.
A part of the Dehing Patkai Rainforest is the sanctuary and a part of its falls under another elephant reserve named Dibru-Deomali. The forest stretches beyond Assam and into the Changlang and Tirap districts of Arunachal Pradesh. It is a four-layered rainforest.
Does it augur well to desecrate such a virgin forest teeming with wildlife?