Centre assures World Heritage Committee on Manas evictions

Delhi vow to clear settlers

Paddy fields in the Bhuyanpara range of Manas National Park. Telegraph picture
The Centre has assured the World Heritage Committee that it will launch eviction drives in Manas National Park.
The issue will be discussed during the 39th meeting of the committee in Bonn, Germany, from June 29 to July 8.
The committee last year had asked the Centre through the state forest department to take urgent measures to address the fresh encroachment at Bhuyanpara range in the national park, and rehabilitate degraded areas.
Eight translocated rhinos have been poached in the World Heritage Site since 2011 leading to concern worldwide.
The state of conservation report for Manas sent to the committee last month stated that a multi-pronged comprehensive long-term strategy has been chalked out for targeting the encroachers.
"Eviction of encroachers has to be done after the paddy cultivation season is over and to ensure that no further clearing in the grassland/forest is made. All access to forest, including grazing of livestock, collection of firewood and minor forest produce, fishing and hunting, to be strictly banned and the law enforced through strictest of measures," the report said.
The report prepared by the park said additional incentives such as provisioning for rations, vehicle and elephants for patrolling, wireless sets for communication and provisioning of winter gear are also being addressed to boost the morale of the staff.
It said deployment of two companies of eco-task force of Territorial Army under Union ministry of defence, which are currently based in Kokrajhar, has to be done for systematic area domination and undertaking plantation in the adjoining Daodhara and Batabari reserve forest areas.
The report said a systematic plan would be made for creating nursery and plantations in the reserve forest areas and complete closure of the national park to any anthropogenic pressures would have to be ensured for a complete revival of the habitat for wildlife.
Currently, Daodhara and Batabari reserve forests are facing an onslaught of clearing and illegal removal of trees.
There is a tremendous potential to create large-scale plantations through the eco-task force in both these areas.
"The advantage of bringing in the force is that they are trained army personnel and will ensure area domination against the armed miscreants that support encroachers," it said.
The report said encroachment at Bhuyanpara is a recurring problem and the socio-political situation, including the presence of militant outfits in the vicinity of the park, unauthorised and illegal possession of weapons by civilians and the prevalence of country-made fire arms have also been some of the factors that have led to land mafia-backed encroachment inside the park.
Park officials said the current encroachment is not of a permanent nature and the people from at least 30 villages from nearby areas participate in clearing and cultivating small portions of grassland. Such encroachment is often backed and controlled by armed miscreants who have been identified and the information shared with intelligence authorities.
"What the committee says will be final and will also decide on whether a monitoring mission needs to be sent or not to Manas," a source said.
Last year, the Centre assured the committee that proper steps would be taken to improve the ground situation and not to send a monitoring mission.


Guwahati to have tea cold storage facility

Guwahati in queue for tea cold storage

A screenshot of the Teabox website
A Siliguri-based online brand, Teabox, is setting up cold storages for tea in Siliguri (Bengal) followed by Guwahati (Assam) and Coonoor (Kerala).
"This is a first-of-its-kind initiative in the country according to my knowledge. We procure teas from plantations within 24-48 hours and this will immediately go to our cold storage facilities where they will be stored at negative temperatures for a long period of time," Kaushal Dugar, founder of Teabox, told The Telegraph.
Once the teas are procured from gardens, they will be cleaned, vacuum-packed and kept in cold storages, he said. An advanced cleaning unit will also be established for the purpose.
He said four important factors that affect tea quality are oxygen, moisture, temperature and light. "With our current packaging, we protect our tea from oxygen, light and moisture but with the cold storage facility we can protect tea from temperature fluctuations that happen throughout the year," Dugar said.
He said the cold storage centre at Siliguri would come up in two months. Guwahati and Coonoor will have the facility in the next six months to a year. The estimated cost for each facility is about Rs 3-4 crore.
The company has raised around $6 million in funds, which will be used primarily to support its growth in key markets, including setting up infrastructure.
He said high storage temperature and temperature changes significantly affect the physical, chemical and sensory quality of tea. Cold storage retains the tea quality, composition, flavour and colour. The temperature difference between day and night is also a factor leading to a qualitative change in tea.
"The rate at which tea loses its freshness and flavour also depends on the tea and how freshly it was packed. Our teas are particularly special because they are vacuum-packed at the origin and stored in controlled environment (cold) that retains the freshness/deliciousness all year long," he said.
N. Muraleedharan, director, Tea Research Association in Tocklai, said keeping teas in cold storage would keep them fresher for a longer period of time.
With its sourcing centres located in the tea-growing regions, Teabox procures teas directly from the growers, does extensive value-addition and ships them to customers all over the world.
Founded in 2012, the company delivers tea direct from its place of origin to customers and ships the world's freshest teas chosen by tea experts all over the world within 24-48 hours of production. It is delivered within three to five working days to customers worldwide.
The company offers the largest selection of single-estate teas online with a selection of more than 200 fresh teas from over 200 different plantations in Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiris, Kangra, rest of the Northeast and Nepal. The company claims it has delivered over 20 million cups worth of tea to customers in 75 countries.
Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi in the state budget this year had announced setting up of small cold storage units for storing green leaf during the peak-cropping season for small tea growers.


Assam tea in Nobel brew

From Sonari to Stockholm

Nobel Museum Tea blend. Picture courtesy: Nobel Museum
Guwahati, Dec. 12: An orange pekoe tea variety from a garden in Upper Assam's Sivasagar district was blended with a Chinese tea for the special guests at the Nobel Prize ceremony on Wednesday.
"One of the components for the Nobel Museum Tea blend is a lovely rich Assam orange pekoe (OP) 1 from the estate of Mangalam in Sonari. Assam contributes to a traditional rich bouquet that does not fade when flavoured with the bergamot from Southern Sicily and the Swedish raspberries. It leaves a slight malty aroma after the first sip," said Gihan V. Mauris, managing director of The Tea Centre of Stockholm, said in an email to The Telegraph today.
The Nobel Museum Tea blend was prepared by The Tea Centre of Stockholm, a small Sweden-based company, in collaboration with Nobel Museum.
The tea blend was created for the first time in honour of Alfred Nobel celebrating his work and what it stands for.
The Chinese Keemun tea is produced in Qimen county in Anhui province.
Orange pekoe is characterised by whole leaf. "While composing a blend, one must imagine the base tea. This base tea blend should be able to withstand future fluctuations in taste, aroma and also quality and price. So we, as blenders, hardly ever use only one origin in our base. Instead, we try to capture the unique and delicate bouquets of different origins and bring them together to create a blend like no other," he added.
Mangalam tea estate, a 150-hectare garden, lies 52km from National Highway 37.
It produces very high quality Assam Orthodox and CTC teas, fetching premium prices due its quality and demand.
Its Orthodox tea is totally absorbed by the German market and the CTC teas are also in good demand.
The company has 10 gardens in Assam.
"This is a very good news for us; it proves that our teas are of high quality. We pluck fine and produce some of the best golden tippy teas," said D.P. Maheswari, managing director of Jay Shree Tea and Industries Limited.
Last year, the broken pekoe clonal grade of tea of CTC variety produced at Mangalam tea garden in Sivasagar district, belonging to Jayashree Tea and Industries, fetched a price of Rs 401 and Rs 405 per kg at Calcutta Tea Auction Centre.


White tea from the land of strong tea- Assam

Assam white tea goes global

Guwahati, Aug. 26: The planters of Assam are making a silent but strong entry into the world of white tea — considered to be a monopoly of the Chinese — after having bowled tea drinkers over with the flavours of their strong-bodied brew.
When Raj Barooah, a tea planter of Assam, took white tea from his garden in Jorhat for the first time to be exhibited at the Hong Kong International Food Fair, he knew there would be some resistance, but once people there tasted it, their impression would change.
White tea is the most expensive of all teas and its price ranges from Rs 8,000 to 12,000 per kg. It is produced mainly for export. Made only from the unopened buds and young leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis, its brew is light and delicate with a slightly sweet flavour.
It is finely plucked at an opportune moment, either at the start or at the end of the season and is the least processed of all teas.
“Initially, I had to cajole them to taste it. But once they tasted it, their impression changed,” said Barooah, the director of Aideobari Tea Estates (Pvt) Ltd, told The Telegraph.
The garden has just launched white tea under the brand name Rujani.
Barooah was part of an Assam government delegation under the directorate of tea, industries and commerce department, which participated in the Hong Kong International Food Fair from August 14-16.
“Assam white tea has its own place and I would like to take it forward,” he said, adding that the response has been good and is looking forward for some of the inquiries to bear fruit.
The production of white tea in the Northeast is nominal and is based on demand.
On the foothills of Bhutan, white tea produced at Doomni tea garden in Baksa district has made a name for itself.
“We have received a very encouraging response within the country and overseas. White tea production volume in the country shall always be limited. This is a speciality, within a speciality. Something like truffles, or a particularly great wine, or even saffron,” Gaurav Jalan, a senior official of Sublime Agro Ltd, which owns Doomni garden, said.
The garden makes 80kg of white tea.
On any plan of increasing production, he said such specialised manufactured product cannot be increased greatly without compromising quality. “We intend to increase nominally, but not like 200kg in three years,” he said.
Tara tea estate in Meghalaya, which sells white tea under the La Kyrsiew brand, has received an “overwhelming” response from its customers.
Of its total production of 2,200kg, it makes only 20-30kg of white tea.
“Some people regard our white teas as the best in the world,” an official of the garden said.
For Pijush Roy of Kamakhya Tea Trading, the only teashop in Guwahati, which sells white tea, it has been a happy affair till now.
“I started selling white tea from last year and have sold almost all what I have bought. There are some tea lovers locally who buy white tea, never mind the price,” he said.
The chairman and managing director of J. Thomas, Krishan Katyal, one of the country’s topmost tea tasters told The Telegraph, “White tea comes from the bud of the leaf. It is plucked before the scheduled opening of the bud.”
The liquor is clear and pale and the taste is fresh and light.
“There is a delicate sweetness with a lingering finish on the palate,” he said.


Assam looks for South African rhino DNA tool

Assam forest department will have a peek into a South African rhino conservation management tool, which will help in successful prosecution of poachers.
The DNA tool christened as RhODIS (Rhino DNA indexing system) helps in providing irrefutable evidence in courts of law and linking crime scenes to suspected criminals leading to successful prosecution.
A three-day workshop organised by the WWF India in collaboration with Assam forest department on Saving Unicorns: International Co-operation for Rhino Conservation is starting here tomorrow and the tool will be demonstrated in the field at Kaziranga.
The tool was first used in a rhino poaching case in 2010 in which a Vietnamese citizen was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for having rhinoceros horns from poached rhinos in his baggage when he was apprehended at OR Thambo International Airport in South Africa.
Apart from resource persons from South Africa, who will be demonstrating the tool, it will be attended by participants from Nepal, Uttar Pradesh forest and West Bengal forest department as well in addition to forest and police officials from Assam.
Officials said the DNA system has established DNA database for rhino profiles allowing rhino range states privileged access to share the data and information.
Till date, it has over 5,000 rhino samples on its DNA database and has contributed towards over 400 rhino investigative cases in the east and southern African region and has set the pace for new global forensic initiatives and standards that enhance conservation efforts in the fight against global wildlife crimes.
The tool has the potential to link with other databases allowing for greater global information sharing where necessary.
“There has not been much work done in Assam on wildlife forensics and stress is now being given on improving crime investigations,” chief wildlife warden R.P. Agarwalla toldThe Telegraph.
The department has been on the back foot as it has not been able to put a stop to poaching despite its best efforts and civil society organisations have been raising voices in the form of protests. Altogether 16 rhinos have been killed in Kaziranga alone this year.
He said rhino convictions were very low in Assam, which could be improved if efforts were made in the right way. “Plans are on to set up a wildlife forensics laboratory on the lines of Gujarat forensic laboratory in Assam too,” he said. An intelligence cell to collect more information about poachers is already operational.
The problem in Assam is that many offenders in rhino cases are out on bail and indulging in poaching again.
“Without conviction, we cannot show our supremacy over poachers. Arrest is just the first step, but if arrested persons are not convicted they become hardcore poachers and will create some more poachers,” Bibhab Talukdar, chair, Asian Rhino Specialist Group, said.
He said to find out the key sponsors or abettors involved in rhino poaching, Kaziranga authorities should immediately collect information from Golaghat, Kaliabor and Biswanath Chariali with regard to persons taking bail for the arrested poachers and start investigation from there.


Is Manas national park slipping into "danger"?

WHC sounds Manas danger alarm

 Manas National Park “seems” to be slipping back into “danger”, three years after it got back the coveted heritage tag.
The warning bells have been sounded by World Heritage Committee, which in a recent report said the park could slip into the danger list if the security and encroachment situation worsened.
“A further deterioration of the security situation, associated with the reported surge in poaching, and concerns regarding encroachment could create the conditions to re-inscribe the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger,” the committee said in its draft decision report after going through the state of conservation report of Manas sent by the Centre.
The report will be discussed in the committee’s 38th session to be held at Doha, Qatar, from June 15 to 25. Officials from the Centre and other agencies will be present in the meeting to put forward their viewpoints.
The main issues afflicting the park are poaching and increasing encroachment. Seven of the rhinos translocated to Manas since 2011, when it had got rid of the danger tag, have fallen prey to poachers.
The committee noted with serious concern the reported poaching of nearly one-third of the rhino population of the park — a reminder of the fragility of its recovering outstanding universal value — and urged the Centre to ensure that forest guards are adequately equipped and trained to protect the property against poachers, that they maintain effective patrolling to secure the recovering population of rhinos and other wildlife and to ensure that the anticipated translocation of eastern swamp deer is carried out effectively.
The committee said Manas had about 100 rhinos at the time of its inscription on the World Heritage List. In 1992, the committee put the property on the List of World Heritage in Danger because of the damage caused to it by militants. By 1997, the number of rhinos was reduced to 39 and by 2001 rhinos had been extirpated from the property. The committee had noted in 2012 that the recovering outstanding universal value of the property was still fragile, given the increase in poaching.
The state government in its state of conservation report sent to the Centre in January this year had spoken of the steps taken by it to control poaching.
The committee has also received reports from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) of new encroachment in the Bhuyanpara range, recalling the situation at the time of the property’s inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 1992. It had asked for a reply from the Centre but there has been none yet. Sources said the encroachment at Bhuyanpara has now increased manifold and more than 7 square km is said to be under encroachment.
There is also rampant encroachment in the park’s other range, Panbari, which has an area of 16.3 square km. About 912 people are occupying the area and they refuse to leave despite financial incentives. Besides, there is a potential source of conflict between the Assam forest department and the BTC on power over Manas and its wildlife. Under the memorandum of settlement on Bodoland Territorial Council 2003, forests have been transferred to the BTC but not the wildlife.
Given the multiple conservation issues affecting the property, the committee has requested the Centre to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN monitoring mission to assess the property’s state of conservation, particularly in relation to security, poaching and encroachment, and to assess whether it faces potential danger as defined in the operational guidelines.
It has requested the Centre to submit a detailed report, including an executive summary, to the World Heritage Centre by February 1 next year on the state of conservation of the property, the steps taken to improve the situation and updates of its financial situation for examination by the World Heritage Committee at its 39th session next year.
“A lot of efforts have been made to revive Manas since 2005. But poaching of seven rhinos since 2011 is a worrying factor, with five killed last year alone. The primary aim of Manas authorities should be to check further poaching and strengthening of patrol and intelligence gathering along with proper training to frontline staff,” Bibhab Talukdar, secretary-general of Aaranyak and Asia coordinator of International Rhino Foundation, told The Telegraph.


Kaziranga thinks the "smart" way to shield rhinos

"Smart guards" for Kaziranga

Kaziranga National Park is thinking the “smart” way to take on poachers.

The proposal of having “smart guards and smart communication” has been developed by director of Kaziranga National Park in view of Gauhati High Court’s order to improve protection of rhinos in the World Heritage Site.
The proposal is now under discussion.

“Since Kaziranga National Park is home to the largest number of greater Indian one-horned rhinoceros, the species is constantly under threat from poachers. Owing to vigorous patrolling by the field staff as well as proactive role by the park authorities, poaching is contained to certain extent. However, it is high time that modernisation of the strike force, forest guards and other frontline staff is carried out by upscaling the anti-poaching infrastructure. The home of the rhinoceros can be protected from poachers and the species, along with other endangered wildlife, will continue to thrive and multiply,” the park director, M.K. Yadava, said in an approach paper on Issues and Possible Solutions to protection of one-horned rhinoceros in Kaziranga National Park, which has now been thrown up for discussion.

He said the pressure on Kaziranga National Park is tremendous as the rhinoceros population is very high and the entire boundary porous. The northern side is surrounded by the Brahmaputra and its numerous islands. There is a very large population of traditional fishing communities all along the river, some of whom may be potential field men for the gangs of poachers. The southern side of the park is also full of human habitation, making patrolling very difficult, he said.
Yadava said under the smart guard system in the context of prevailing situation in Kaziranga National Park “S” stands for sustained stamina 24x7x365. “M” means motivated, “A” action-oriented, “R” ready to act. “T” stands for trained and tactically superior, “G” means ‘get down’ to the poachers, “U” undeterred by adverse conditions, “A” always armed (weapon, equipment and kits) “R” right thinking at the right time and “D” implies develop yourself. The smart guard will be well-equipped, well-trained and well-motivated.

“The pilot proposal here would create an elite force of about 50-75 smart guards to begin with. Though there is a large number of equipment (in the thought process), initially it is proposed to start with day-vision binoculars, hand-held GPS sets, range finders, night-vision goggles, hand-held thermal scanners, powerful searchlights including illumination systems, bullet-proof jackets and helmets. To this is added portable battery packs (as the equipment would need power supplies during long hours of ambush and patrolling)” Yadava says.

The director says the introduction of smart guard system would change patrol, ambush and surveillance strategies which would require training and motivation of front line staff. “Six months’ intensive training has been proposed to make the field staff adapt to the new technologies and systems for better performance.”

On the other hand, the Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS) today moved the state forest department demanding that the state government lobby with international agencies to create pressure on those procuring rhino horns supplied by poaching rackets in order to prevent poaching.

The peasants’ body, which has been spearheading a movement against the government on different issues of public interests, today launched a protest against poaching of one-horned rhinos in the state’s forests including Kaziranga National Park.

Nearly 500 members of the KMSS, led by its president and peasant leader Akhil Gogoi, staged a demonstration here alleging that the state government had failed to prevent poaching as 168 rhinos have been killed during the past 12 years of Congress government in the state.

According to the latest census (March 2013), there are 2,329 rhinos in Assam, up from 2,290 the previous year.
The KMSS supporters shouted slogans against forest minister Rakibul Hussain, alleging that the department had failed to identify rackets involved in continuous poaching of rhinos.

They alleged that steps taken to improve security arrangements in the forests were not enough.