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Bangladeshis pose threat to Orang National Park

By Shambhu Boro

TEZPUR, June 3 � The issue of many suspected Bangladeshi immigrants settling in the char areas of Sonitpur district has been a major concern over the years here. It is to be mentioned here that the arrival of thousands of suspected Bangladeshi people in the district under the very nose of the authorities has become a regular affair here. More importantly, despite various objections raised from various quarters, the suspected Bangladeshis are continuing to encroach land in char areas. The local people have given numerous complaints to the authorities concerned that the suspected illegal Bangladeshis have been using the char areas under Barchala, Biswanath, and Tezpur LACs in Sonitpur district as a major habitation, thereby posing a serious threat to the local people, ecology and the demographic pattern.

Due to the continuous aggression by these suspected Bangladeshis, of late the Orang National Park is facing a serious threat. It is to be mentioned here that the Orang National Park located on the north bank of the Brahmaputra river in the Darrang and Sonitpur districts of Assam, covers an area of 78.81 square kilometres. Tributaries of river Brahmaputra namely Pachnoi, Belsiri and Dhansiri border the park and join the Brahmaputra river. During the monsoon season, the park becomes a veritable flood plain with the many streams overlapping each other. These flood plains constitute 12 wetlands in the park, apart from the 26 man-made water bodies.

It was established as a sanctuary in 1985 and declared a National Park on April 13, 1999. It is also known as a mini Kaziranga National Park, since the two parks have a similar landscape made up of marshes, streams and grasslands and are inhabited by the Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros. The park has a rich flora and fauna, including Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros, pigmy hog, elephants, wild buffalo and tigers. It is the only stronghold of the rhinoceros on the north bank of the Brahmaputra river.

Records say that the park has a chequered history of habitation. Up to 1900, it was inhabited by the local tribes. On account of an epidemic disease, the tribal population abandoned the area. However, in 1915 the British declared it as Orang Game Reserve. The game reserve came under the control of the Wildlife wing of the State Forest Department to meet the requirements of the Project Tiger. It was established as a Wildlife sanctuary in 1985. But in 1992, the park was renamed as Rajiv Gandhi Wildlife Sanctuary but this action had to be reversed due to public pressure against the renaming. Finally, the sanctuary was declared as National Park in 1999.

It contains significant breeding populations of several mammalian species. Apart from the rhinoceros, which is the dominant species of the national park, the other species sharing the habitat are the Royal Bengal Tiger, Asiatic elephant, pygmy hog, hog deer and wild boar. Moreover, the park is home to a variety of migratory birds, water birds, predators, scavengers and game birds. Two hundred and twenty-two species of birds have so far been recorded including the spot-billed pelican, great white pelican, black-necked stork, greater adjutant stork, lesser adjutant stork, ruddy shelduck, gadwall, brahminy duck, mallard, pintail, hornbills, Pallas�s fishing eagle, kingfisher and woodpecker etc.

But it is matter of fact that some dishonest people are illegally capturing the land of the park to sell it to suspected Bangladeshi nationals taking advantage of which these people are illegally settling in and around the park in alleged nexus with the officials of the Forest department. Recently 600-700 suspected Bangladeshi families have newly settled in the area. Though these illegally settled people are in the beginning seen engaged in agricultural work, later they start engaging in harmful works like tree-felling, rhino poaching, illegal fishing etc., which has affected the park from all sides. These people have also killed nine rhinos in the last couple of years. Due to these acts, not only the park, but the very existence of the local indigenous people has been threatened.

The local people have urged the government to bestow the responsibility of keeping strict vigil upon the park to the Army so that it�s security could be ensured. Not only this incident, most of the open spaces in various river banks under the Dhekiajuli revenue circle in Sonitpur district are nowadays witnessing a number of huts which spring up overnight. Locals claim that these are definitely of the illegal migrants in of Assam, but the tragic thing is that the department concerned has no time to look at such a development.

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