It very much falls within the 'Eco Sensitive Zone', say Forest records
TINSUKIA: While several environmental organizations have vehemently protested against the approval accorded in the 57th meeting of the Standing Committee of National Board of Wildlife (NBWL) regarding diversion of 98.59 ha of the Saleki Proposed Reserved Forest (PRF) under Digboi Forest Division for Tikok OCP (Open Cast Project) coal mining of North-Eastern Coal Fields (Coal India Limited), a serious ambiguity has surfaced in respect of the actual location of the Saleki PRF.
From the records, it has become explicitly clear that the area in question — Saleki PRF does not belong to the Dehing Patkai Wild Life Sanctuary (WLS) but is very much within the 'Eco Sensitive Zone' as the area lies within 10 km radius of the wildlife sanctuary and within the Elephant Reserve, though the latter is yet to achieve any legal status under Wild Life Protection Act.
While the Digboi DFO (Divisional Forest Officer) i/c Atikur Rahman told The Sentinel that the Saleki PRF is located 9.1 km away from Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, the then DFO Digboi Division vide letter no A/G-42/1501-40 of 30.8.2013 reported to CF EAC Jorhat, which was presented in the ninth meeting of the State Board for Wild Life (SBWL) held on 20.9.2016, that the diversion of 98.59 ha of forest land in Saleki PRF was outside 10 km radius of Dehing Patkai WLS.
Later, the physical verification report submitted by the CF EAC Jorhat in the 10th meeting of SBWL held on 22.2.2018 stated that the site was found to be located just on the boundary of 10 km radius from the Dehing Patkai WLS and falls within the 'Eco Sensitive Zone'.
The Chief Minister even advised the Forest Department, as reflected in the minutes of the 10th meeting, to take necessary steps for restoring the elephant habitat to reduce man-elephant conflict in the area.
Prof Raman Sukumar, a member of NBWL, echoed similar feelings in both the 56th and 57th Standing Committee meetings of NBWL. He stated that 57.20 ha of forest land had been already broken up by the user agency (North-Eastern Coal Fields) and for the balance unbroken land area of 41.39 ha, cautious approach needed to be adopted. The proposed area is on a steep hill slope that is a part of the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve adjoining the Deomali Elephant Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh with a sizeable population of elephants, Prof Sukumar said — as cited in the minutes of the meeting.
The moot poser: Why did the Forest Department and SBWL permit mining activities within the eco-sensitive zone even as SBWL had acknowledged the land status of Saleki PRF?