GUWAHATI, March 20 � The State Forest Department has allegedly turned a blind eye, perhaps due to the alleged nexus between some of its officers with a section of dishonest traders, towards industrial ventures like stone crusher units, which have cropped up illegally within the 10 km radius of Kaziranga National Park (KNP) and Tiger Reserve.
RTI-cum-environment activist Rohit Choudhury told this newspaper that the then Director of the KNP had written to the Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) of the State on June 18, 2003, pointing out the harm that stone quarries and stone crusher units around the KNP were causing to the wildlife of the Park and their habitat in the adjacent areas.
The then KNP Director wrote � �The impact of quarrying along the hills of Karbi Anglong is quite visible in terms of erosion, leading to degradation of hill slopes, vanishing streams due to siltation and change in the course of these streams, loss of valuable flora and fauna and habitat for housing and migration of key species of wildlife etc.�
He further said, �I am also not convinced about the clearance under the Forest Conservation Act of some (if not all) of these quarries, which will definitely defeat the objective of long-term conservation of wildlife in this region, including Kaziranga National Park.�
The report of the site inspection team in Karbi Anglong forest areas adjacent to Kaziranga National Park based on the complaints received by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, filed in 2010 also stated that the entire area on which some of the stone crushers were set up or intended to be set up, was a prime habitat of elephants and part of the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong elephant reserve.
It further said, �Elephants being disturbed due to stone crusher machine and change of land use pattern (change of forested area to cash crops like tea and rubber) is found to be logical.�
It called for steps to declare all the north-facing hills of Karbi Anglong-Kaziranga National Park as no development zone.
The team had written a letter to the Divisional Forest Officer of East Karbi Anglong Division on September 14, 2010, seeking information on the detailed land status and history and land records of the areas concerned, preferably with maps delineating the forest boundary line. But the team did not receive any report from the DFO till the time of filing of its report.
The State Level Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA), Assam informed Choudhury through a letter on March 9, 2015 that it has not issued any environment clearance certificate to any unit in the area falling within 10 km radius of the KNP and Tiger Reserve �till now�. Environment clearance from the SEIAA is mandatory for establishing stone mining, stone crushers etc projects in that area.
Despite this, rampant stone mining and crushing activities are continuing in this area. Not surprisingly, without the tacit approval of the Forest Department, such activities would not have been possible, opined Choudhury.