GUWAHATI, April 29 � Rapid expansion of settlements inside Dibru-Saikhowa National Park that shelters wide ranging wildlife and flora � many endemic to it � is pushing this unique natural habitat to the brink.
Abysmal manpower shortage is further aggravating the situation at Dibru Saikhowa, which is now caught in a grim battle for survival. Conservationists have attributed the ills afflicting the park � also a biosphere reserve � to the inertia of the Forest Department and the State Government.
The two forest villages, i.e., Laika and Dadhia, inside the protected area have spread out manifold in the past decade, as little was done to expedite their relocation outside the protected area. As per data based on satellite imagery, the two villages now occupy a combined space of 46.85 sq km against the original 3.73 sq km.
The park�s total area is 340 sq km.
Laika and Dadhia have 957 and 1,691 households respectively, and the figure keeps swelling every year. Dadhia in particular has expanded rapidly, encompassing an area of 28.55 sq km from its original 1.35 sq km. Laika has grown from 2.38 sq km to 18.30 sq km.
The ominous fallout has been large-scale deforestation and mounting anthropogenic pressure on the forest resources besides a spurt in acts inimical to the conservation interests. Illegal tree-felling is rampant inside the forest as is poaching, with forest personnel frequently encountering armed smugglers.
Relocating the villages outside the park looks improbable today, as it would entail a huge compensation package � not to mention the required alternative land area. Forest officials feel that without the Government�s intervention in a big way, relocation prospects look absolutely bleak.
�The Deputy Commissioner of Tinsukia and the SDO (Civil), Sadiya, have been approached to find out alternative land for their relocation. Owing to stiff opposition at Sadiya, another land identification process was also carried out at Selekhi proposed reserve forest, Digboi. The matter is still under process,� Suresh Chand, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), says.
Perhaps no other national park in the country is as ill-managed as Dibru-Saikhowa. A skeletal staff comprising 29 guards continues to man the sprawling 340-sq km park. Just for comparison, Kaziranga National Park has 693 frontline staff including 170 home-guards. Orang National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary have 68 and 15 home-guards respectively in addition to their regular forest guards. Posts of forester-II, game watcher, etc., have been lying vacant at Dibru Saikhowa for a long time.
The present security set-up in Dibru-Saikhowa raises serious questions over the prospects of rhino translocation conceived under the Indian Rhino Vision-2020 to the park. �The very fact that Dibru-Saikhowa is one of the few sites for rhino translocation testifies to its significance. But its security concerns must be addressed at the earliest for rhino translocation as well as for securing long-term interests of the park,� a conservationist said.