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�No info with Centre on relevant research prior to notification�

By Ajit Patowary

GUWAHATI, June 24 - The Project Elephant (PE) Division of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has no information available with it on the study or research conducted by it on the behaviour of elephants and of elephant corridors of the Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve before the declaration of the same as an elephant reserve on April 17, 2003.

This came to light from the June 18, 2020 reply of the PE Division to the RTI queries made by RTI-cum-environment activist Rohit Choudhury to it on June 2, 2020.

Some leading environment groups have been alleging for quite some time that the Government declared the Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve on April 17, 2003 without any proper scientific study. This was so done only to defeat the popular demand for carving out a wildlife sanctuary comprising a 500 square kilometre contiguous rainforest area of the Joypore, Upper Dehing and Dirak Reserve Forests of the Upper Assam districts of Dibrugarh and Tinsukia.

The June 18 reply of the PE Division has provided credence to the doubts expressed by these environment groups on the sincerity of the Government in declaring the Dehing-Patkai Elephant Reserve.

On April 17, 2003 the notification (No FRW-44/2002/67) on �Dihing-Patkai Elephant Reserve� was issued by the State Government and it was published as a gazette notification on April 19, 2003 with the signature of Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury, the then Joint Secretary, Environment and Forest Department of the State Government.

The schedules of this elephant reserve showed that it would comprise a vast area of 937 sq km spread over the four forest divisions of Dibrugarh, Digboi, Dum Duma (Doomdooma) and Sivasagar under the then civil (administrative) subdivisions of Charaidew, Dibrugarh, Margherita and Tinsukia of the then civil (administrative) districts of Dibrugarh, Sivasagar and Tinsukia. The elephant reserve would be divided into three main blocks and �eight other disjunct pockets.� While Block-1 would comprise an area of 460 sq km, Block-2 would comprise an area of 156 sq km, Block -3 would comprise an area of 170 sq km and the eight other disjunct pockets would comprise together an area of 151 sq km, said the notification.

Though the notification looks clumsy, what appears from its reading is that the elephant reserve would be spread over the Reserve Forests (RFs) areas of Upper Dihing, Dilli, Joypur (Joypore), Kakojan, Bogapani, Namphai, Tinkopani, Lekhapani, Makumpani, Paharpur, Dirak and Tipong and the Proposed Reserve Forests (PRFs) areas of Tirap (1st Addition), Tipong (1st Addition) and Saleki. The smaller disjunct pockets it was proposed to comprise included, among others, parts of the Abhoypur, Burhi-Dihing (North and South Blocks), Duarmara (including its proposed 1st Addition RF), Kotha, Naloni, Phillobari, Tokouni and Torani RFs. �All these as well as the blocks have contiguity through unclassed forests, riverbeds and tea plantations,� said the notification.

Even though the notification proposed inclusion of Saleki PRF areas within this elephant reserve, the Saleki forest area was highly denuded since the pre-Independence era. It was proposed to be upgraded into an RF, but since it became the focus area of coal mining activities this proposal was never translated into reality.

It needs mention here that only the three RFs � Joypore, upper Dihing and Dirak � are contiguous among the above RFs and the rest have been reduced into fragmented forest areas by unabated anthropogenic activities.

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