GUWAHATI, March 2 � Sonai Rupai wildlife sanctuary � once home to varied wildlife species including endangered ones � today stands largely deforested with settlements and paddy fields replacing the verdant greenery. Rampant felling of trees continues unabated with only the stubs of trees left all around.
Giving the media a first-hand account of his visit to Sonai Rupai wildlife sanctuary in Sonitpur district which has been bearing the brunt of wanton human vandalism for the past one-and-a-half decade, public activist Prof Deven Dutta today said extremists were having a field day in the protected forest under the very nose of the government machinery, felling trees, decimating wildlife, and setting up villages inside the sanctuary.
�Extremists have totally denuded the sanctuary expect a small area named Kalamati beat. There is all-pervasive encroachment with patronage of militants, while the Forest Department has been reduced to a white elephant. To top it all, the State Government is still showcasing Sonai Rupai as an ideal wildlife destination and appealing to tourists to visit the park whereas it hardly has any forest or wildlife left,� Prof Dutta said.
Prof Dutta added that the State Government had also set up a number of schools under Sarba Shiksha Abhijan inside the sanctuary area in blatant violation of rules and norms concerning protected forests.
Pointing out that Sonitpur district as a whole was bearing the brunt of human vandalism on nature, Prof Dutta said that the entire stretch of pristine forests along the Assam-Nagaland border today stood highly degraded and fragmented in the face of unabated organized encroachment and illegal logging.
�Illegal saw mills operating in the vicinity of Sonai Rupai continue to flourish � thanks to the illegal logging in forests. Timber from Sonai Rupai finds its way to different parts of the State through the railway,� he said.
Questioning the inaction of the police, administration and the Forest Department over such horrible developments, Prof Dutta said that Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain and Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi (who also holds the Home portfolio) owned the people a lot of explanation.
�To allow such devastations inside a protected wildlife sanctuary, the authorities must be either corrupt, or utterly incompetent or both. Nothing else will explain this,� he added.
Prof Dutta also questioned the rationale behind making the Forest Department to-heavy even as there was acute shortage of frontline personnel to protect forests across the State. �Sonai Rupai is only one of the many forests experiencing large-scale deforestation and encroachment. All this belies the existence of the Forest Department,� he added.