TEZPUR, Nov 10 � At a time when the State Forest department has taken up various measures to save wildlife, conserve forests and check man-elephant conflicts, inhabitants of the northern part of Sonitpur district have been passing sleepless nights since the last few months as a herd of wild elephants has caused a lot of depredations. Apparently due to shortage of fodder and shrinkage of habitat, flood and some problems, wild elephant herds have been creating a great nuisance in villages along Sonai-Rupai Sanctuary and Nameri National Park and Rangapara, Missamari, Golai, etc.
It is alleged that Nameri and Sonai-Rupai alongwith other reserve forests in tribal belts and blocks are becoming hubs of timber smugglers who are in a nexus with Forest officials and some members of so-called nature organisations. Due to the wanton activities of the timber smugglers, herds of wild elephant are coming down to villages and tea garden areas in search of food and shelter. The combined territory of 11 reserve forests in Sonitpur district under the West and East Sonitpur Forest divisions has shrunk from a total area of 1,13,595,77 to 83,241 hectares with encroachment by over 1,38,000 families during the past.
Official records state that of the forest cover, 10,754 hectares have allegedly been encroached on by Arunachalis and immigrant locals and Adivasis of inter-State border areas. A district-level Forest official, who did not wish to be named, disclosed that 13,043 hectares of the Gohpur reserve forest, 22,000 hectares of Chardwar reserve forest, 10,000 hectares in Balipara, 7,600 hectares in Biswanath and 7,750 hectares in Naduwar reserve forest have been denuded by encroachers living in the vicinity of these reserve forests in the district. With encroachment of forests in west and east divisions of the district continuing, elephant herds are frequently intruding into villages near their habitats. Rampaging herds have destroyed standing crops, dwelling houses worth over Rs 10 crore and killed more than 100 people in both the forest divisions during the past years including a family near Rangapara town in the district recently.
The man-elephant conflict has lately taken a serious turn in the district with many elephants being poisoned including more than 10 in Nameri National Park under East Sonitpur Forest Division. Some of them died due to fights common among wild tuskers, some others by falling into man-made holes and electrocution on fencings raised to protect inhabited areas. Official sources said that 90 per cent forests have been cleared by encroachers and these forests in Sonitpur district close to Arunachal Pradesh have become safe shelter and hideouts points for ULFA and other militants from neighbouring countries. Deforestation and unabated land grabbing by encroachers have become a major problem as around 2 lakh encroachers have already cleared forest areas and chopped off valuable trees and medicinal plants, supplying these to other States of the country.
Meanwhile, though the Arunachal Pradesh Government has taken steps and implemented various developmental schemes in disputed areas along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border under its border area development programme, there are disturbances every now and then as Arunachal Pradesh is still constructing school buildings, drinking water supply projects, health centres and police outposts. A concrete gate has been erected at the entry point to Arunachal Pradesh at Bhalukpumg by occupying land allotted to the Sonitpur Krishi Pam Nigam. The Sonitpur district administration and the Assam Government have allegedly remained a silent spectator in this regard.
Different nature organisations have urged the authorities concerned to do something in this regard so that the future generations could live in an ecologically balanced world.