GUWAHATI, July 17 - Manas National Park is set to increase its area by another 350 sq km following clearance of a proposal to that effect by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change.
The picturesque national park that harbours wide-ranging flora and fauna has an area of 520 sq km. Conservationists believe that the proposed first addition would boost long-term conservation in the greater Manas landscape that has witnessed large-scale deforestation and fragmentation of prime wildlife habitat.
The proposed area falls within the notified buffer of Manas Tiger Reserve declared during 1973 as well as the Critical Tiger Habitat notified by the Assam Government vide notification No. FRW. 2/2007/17 of 2007.
�An extension of the area of Manas has been long overdue. In fact, a plan to have the park�s area extended was endorsed by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests after Manas got back the World Heritage Site status several years back. With the proposal now cleared by the National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), we expect the State Government to be pro-active on the matter,� NBWL sources told The Assam Tribune.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site Committee, too, had in its decision report vide WHC-11/35.COM/20, p. 22; dated 21/06/2011 called for extending �the property with the 36,000 hectares of intact habitat proposed by the Bodoland Territorial Council as an expansion of the national park, once this has been approved at the State and National level.�
The proposed first addition to Manas is a part of the vast uninterrupted forest belt extending from Buxa tiger Reserve of West Bengal on the west to the Subankhata reserved forest (RF) on the east, running along the Himalayan foothills and contiguous to the Bhutan forests on the north. There is no forest village inside the proposed NP area.
�Creation of more viable area is needed to accommodate the future surplus wildlife of Manas besides maintaining the continuity of animal migration and transfer of gene pool between the western Assam and Bhutan. This will ensure long-term conservation of flora in general and unique, endangered and endemic fauna of the region in particular along with the catchments of many young rivers,� said HK Sharma, Field Director of Manas Tiger Reserve.
The floristic composition of the proposed extension area is rich and diverse, with 381 plant species identified so far. The break-up of the habitat is dense forest 151 sq km, open forest 91 sq km, grassland 71 sq km, swampy land 17.5 sq km and rivers 19.5 sq km.
�Manas NP and its surrounding forest areas are rich with biodiversity and contributed towards maintenance of ecosystems services. Bringing such rich forest areas under the protection regime of national park is crucial to give ample space to wildlife to build their population. Bringing additional reserved forest areas under the protection surveillance of Manas NP is important to maintain ecological balance and reduce human-wildlife conflict,� said Dr Bibhab Talukdar, secretary general of Aaranyak.
Excluding the southern side of the proposed NP, the other three sides have contiguous forest areas both in Bhutan and India. Human settlements remain only on the south of Manas road of the proposed NP. The proposed area has recorded a significant presence of tigers.
Sharma added that the first addition to Manas would not only save the fragile bhabar area but also conserve the rich and endemic biodiversity of the region. �This will also help creating meta population of some endangered species of Manas on the luxuriant habitat of the western areas,� he said.
The extension of Manas NP brooks no delay given that expanding human settlements and consequent developmental activities have eroded, degraded and critically fragmented large tracts of wildlife habitat of Manas Tiger Reserve � the core area of which forms Manas National Park.
�The forest belt beyond Manas National Park on the eastern part in particular is fragmented to a greater extent and almost all the RFs have become insular. Besides, the new highway recently constructed along the eastern boundary of Manas to connect the Nglangm cement factory of Bhutan, conjugated with the impending railway track which is being installed beside the highway, would severely hinder the transition of animal from Manas NP towards the east,� Sharma said.