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Tiger panel seeks report on forest road
Guwahati, Aug. 30: The Delhi-based National Tiger Conservation Authority — the apex body for tiger conservation in the country — today asked the Assam forest department for a status report on the road-widening project on Balipara-Bhalukpong which cuts into the buffer area of the Nameri tiger reserve.
The tiger organisation was reacting to a report, “Road work threat to wildlife”, published in The Telegraph on August 21.
The member secretary of the tiger conservation authority, Rajesh Gopal, said a letter has been sent to the Assam forest department asking for information about the status of the project.
“We have received information in this office regarding a road-widening project in the buffer area of Nameri tiger reserve. It has been stated that the said area forms part of the Sonitpur elephant reserve and work is on without the mandatory clearance from the ministry of environment and forests,” Gopal said in his letter to the Assam forest department.
He said the forest department has replied that since today was a holiday in Assam, the information would be sent tomorrow.
Bibhab Kumar Talukdar, former member of the standing committee of the National Board of Wildlife and a member of Project Elephant Steering Committee, said: “What is important is to follow the procedure as mandated by existing laws with regards to forest clearance. The Forest Conservation Act 1980 clearly mentions that the state should get prior approval from the ministry of environment and forests if forestland is required to be used for non-forestry purpose.”
“Further, the area falls within the Sonitpur elephant reserve and also Nameri tiger reserve, stressing the fact that the area is of high importance for wildlife conservation. The ministry of environment and forests may kindly investigate the matter with the state government to uphold the sanctity of existing laws with regard to wildlife conservation,” Talukdar told The Telegraph.
Anwaruddin Choudhury, honorary chief executive of Rhino Foundation for Nature in Northeast India, said the proposed road should be of minimum width.
“The park authorities should ensure this as otherwise movement of animals would be affected. The National Tiger Conservation Authority has also constituted a committee to examine proposals of infrastructure development and other industries on projects falling in the buffer/corridor areas of tiger reserves.”
A source said the pressure on the forest department was immense from defence authorities to clear road projects such as this one, as they are of strategic importance.
The Balipara-Bhalukpong road is being widened for movement of heavy armoured vehicles to the Sino-Indian border in the wake of reported security threat.

biotech boost to healthcare

Biotech boost to healthcare
Guwahati, Aug. 28: The department of biotechnology (DBT) under the Union ministry of science and technology is setting up “molecular diagnostic centres” in the Northeast.
It will provide services to patients in a qualitative and cost-effective manner and also work towards developing tools for specialised investigations.
“The proposed centres will aim at providing highly skilled and refined diagnostic services to the healthcare system in the region and increasing diagnostic capabilities in terms of the range and number of tests. The emphasis will be on continuing research and development towards new diagnostic methods,” A.K. Mukherjee, head and co-ordinator, department of molecular biology and biotechnology, Tezpur University, told The Telegraph today.
Mukherjee said techniques in medical biotechnology are at the forefront in diagnosing and treating diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, swine flu (H1N1 virus), HIV/AIDS and cancer.
“These techniques can help play lifesaving roles, thanks to their quick and precise diagnostic ability.
But the infrastructure back-up needed is often far beyond the reach of many healthcare centres,” he added.
A DBT nodal cell for medical colleges and biomedical research institutes of the Northeast has been set up in Tezpur University to co-ordinate, support, and oversee the scientific activities and biomedical research.
“The plan is to set up two or three diagnostics centres in the region that will be professionally run and managed,” Mukherjee said.
He said though these centres would preferably be set up in medical colleges of the region, some collaborative projects are also expected with other biomedical research institutions in association with IITs and universities.
The projects may also be based on public-private partnership models.
“The number of centres will depend on the letters of intent received, competence to handle them and the likelihood of technical and financial viability.
An assessment to this effect would be made by the DBT,” he added.
Though it is planned that such centres would be fully funded by the department, co-operation and partnership with organisations such as medical colleges, universities, other such units who are willing to provide space, trained/untrained manpower will make it run successfully.
The DBT is also working on providing programme support in areas of biotechnology to the Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, clinical research and developing drugs from medicinal plants of the region.


cut forests in the name of security!


Road work threat to wildlife

- BRO hill-cutting puts habitat of Sonitpur animal reserves in danger


Work in progress on widening of the Balipara-Bhalukpong road in Assam’s Sonitpur district. Telegraph picture

Guwahati, Aug. 20: The Assam forest department has allowed the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) to widen the Balipara-Bhalukpong road in Sonitpur district, putting in peril the habitat of the Sonitpur elephant reserve and the buffer of Nameri tiger reserve.

The BRO has started massive hill-cutting in the area to facilitate the widening despite the Union ministry of environment and forests not issuing the mandatory clearance.

In fact, a three-member expert committee of the forest department, which was asked by the department to give an on-the-spot report, had observed massive earth-cutting from the adjoining hillocks and also found that 4km of the road inside the buffer area has already been constructed.

“The construction of culverts and retaining wall at almost all places is complete,” a source said.

“Even the raw materials like earth for raising of the road at certain points, besides sand and boulders for metalling, are being collected from the adjoining hillocks of the buffer area. Mechanised appliances have been used for collection of these materials,” the source said.

Sources in the forest department said the BRO had sought right of way of 36 metres, which was later reduced to 22 metres.

“The BRO was pressuring the state forest department from Delhi, pleading that the request for widening the road not be turned down,” a senior forest department official said on condition of anonymity.

A senior BRO official said they have documents showing that they have a right of way of 36 metres and they are perfectly within their rights to ask for it.

As a face-saving device to show its concern for wildlife, the forest department has asked the BRO to pay for five per cent of the proportionate project cost for wildlife conservation and human wildlife conflict mitigation measures.

The forest department has also asked them to put up speed restriction signals on the road similar to what has been done in Kaziranga.

“We have given them the scope for impinging on the forest land and hence cannot blame them,” a source said.

The Border Roads Organisation had requested the state forest department to give them forest clearance for widening the Balipara-Bhalukpong road, which is a strategic road for movement of heavy armoured vehicles, more so in the wake of Chinese build-up.

The Assam forest department had overturned the recommendations of its own expert committee on the impact of diversion of Balipara-Bhalukpong road which will now result in endangering the habitat of the Sonitpur elephant reserve and the buffer of Nameri tiger reserve.

The expert committee, in its report on the impact on wildlife after widening of the road, said, “Wild elephants from Nameri tiger reserve use this road frequently as a corridor throughout the year, more so in the winter season and move to Sotai Pahar, which is a part of Balipara reserve forest on the western side of the road. A major part of Sotai Pahar is still intact with presence of bamboo at many places and few degraded patches.

“While the population of elephants has been going down according to the figures available, the fragmentation of the elephant reserve will further act as a nail in the coffin for the poor pachyderms,” the expert committee said in its report.

The construction and widening of the road will also result in felling of many species of trees like otenga, amari, khokan, am, bohera, foma, jamuk, eola, ficus, amlakhi and pichola, which will be contributing to the loss of important habitat for wildlife.

The buffer area of Nameri tiger reserve is 144 square km, whereas the core area is 200 square km.

The buffer of Nameri tiger reserve extends up to the rail line beyond the existing road (on the western side) and is a potential area where wild animals take refuge.

“If the proposal is allowed, the elephant movement to Sotai Pahar will be hampered/hindered and the wild elephants will lose the opportunity of entering this area. It may also result in the elephants being hit by speeding vehicles if the pachyderms attempt to cross the road. Besides, it would also mean loss of potential habitat and loss of areas in the buffer of Nameri tiger reserve where the wild animals take refuge,” the expert committee report said.

“We have been coordinating with the forest department at each and every step and there has been no foul play by them” a Border Roads Organisation official said.

HPCL chief remebers jorhat

HPCL chief salutes teachers
Subir Roy Choudhury
Guwahati, Aug. 2: A salute to his teachers at Jorhat Engineering College was his way of expressing his gratitude on reaching another milestone in what has been a chequered career.
“I salute all my teachers for their guidance in helping me reach the pinnacle of my success,” Subir Roy Choudhury, who took over as the chairman-cum-managing director of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd today, told The Telegraph in an e-mail.
Choudhury, who was the director (marketing) of HPCL since May 2004, will take charge when he joins the organisation’s office in Mumbai.
He was born on March 1, 1954.
Reminiscing about his days at Jorhat Engineering College when he was doing mechanical engineering (1970-75), Choudhury felt nostalgic about his college days and friends.
“I cannot forget Bora canteen, Sharma dada’s 5 star hotel and Govinds Mall,” he said.
He was all praises for the then principal Debajit Chaliha. He commenced his career in the petroleum industry with Assam Oil Company, Digboi, a subsidiary of Burma Oil company.
He joined HPCL on June 21, 1982, as a construction engineer where he is credited with creating a pipelines division in HPCL and has successfully completed several pipeline projects.
Choudhury was also responsible for the smooth transition from the administered price mechanism to non-administered price mechanism era in the area of product supplies and distribution.
HPCL is a Fortune500 company, with an annual turnover of Rs 108,599 crore in 2009-10, having nearly 20 per cent marketing share in India and a strong market infrastructure.
It operates two major refineries, one in Mumbai (West Coast) of 6.5 million metric tonnes per annum capacity and the other in Vishakapatnam, (East Coast) with a capacity of 8.3 million metric tonnes per annum.
Choudhury said he would like to visit his college if he got time which would probably be in 2011. “I do come once a year,” he said.
His advice to youths is to “Work, work and work, never give up.”
He also has plans for Assam, aiming at increasing the number of retail outlets by another 50 from the current 36.
There would also be an increase in LPG distributorship.
“It is a matter of pride for the college,” Atul Bora, the principal of Jorhat Engineering College, told The Telegraph.
As the college will completing 50 years this year, Bora said they would like to interact more with Choudhury.
Dipak Chakravarty, the director (technical) Numaligarh Refinery Ltd, who was Choudhury’s colleague at Assam Oil Company, Digboi is equally proud of him. “He was very knowledgeable and very hardworking,” he said.
As a person, Choudhury is an amiable person and a great one to talk with. “But the best thing was he never forgot his roots and still keeps in touch despite his busy schedule,” Chakravarty said, adding that they would like to felicitate him when he comes visiting.

NF Railways- money and delays

Rs 17000cr & more for rail projects
Guwahati, Aug. 9: A total of Rs 17,000 crore has already been sanctioned for the ongoing rail projects in the Northeast and the figure is likely to escalate as the railways grapple to complete the schemes, states an estimate prepared by the ministry of railways.
A source said this had been revealed in the masterplan for development of rail infrastructure in the Northeast prepared by the railway ministry. The plan was prepared in consultation with state authorities as mentioned in this year’s railway budget.
The masterplan states that the estimate is based on the sanctioned costs and the additional funds will be provided by the ministry of finance.
On the challenges, the plan states that the local contractors do not have the capacity to execute such large projects and those from other parts of the country are generally not willing to work in the area because of adverse conditions. The unwillingness was reflected in the Lumding-Silchar broad gauge conversion project when contractors refused to work because of unfavourable law and order.
The masterplan also cites law and order, militancy and heavy extortion besides difficult terrain, small working season and inadequate funding as problems that make implementation of the projects a stupendous task.
Eleven rail projects are under way in the region of which eight are national projects and are at different stages of completion.
To mention some important projects, the overall progress in the Bogibeel rail-cum-road bridge (73km), a national project, in Assam is 58 per cent and its targeted date of completion is March 2014. The problems cited are land acquisition for road links and frequent destruction because of militancy.
The overall progress in the Jiribam-Imphal (125km) national project in Manipur is a mere seven per cent. The target date for completion is March 2016. The problems are security situation in the state, frequent bandhs and six weak bridges on NH 53 that need to be strengthened.
As for the 88-km-long Dimapur-Zubza national project in Nagaland, it has been found that the land rates given by the Nagaland government to the railways is exceedingly high and would put the project out of circulation. The state government has been asked to bring down land costs to a reasonable basis. The railways will soon inform the Nagaland government of the compensation rates being paid by it in other states of the region. The targeted date of the project’s completion is March 2015.
The overall progress in the 19.75-km Dudhnoi-Mendipathar railway line has been poor because of delay in acquisition of land by the Meghalaya government. The report says though the project will benefit Meghalaya, the state government has not fully co-operated in land acquisition. Frequent protests and bandhs called by the Rabha community have also hit the project. The scheduled date of completion is March 2013.
The masterplan commends the Tripura government for providing effective security at work sites and for movement of men and material for the Kumarghat-Agartala project and urges the other state governments to make similar arrangements.
At present, the railways have a network covering 2452.10km in the region, of which broad gauge is 1237.17km and metre gauge is 1214.40km. Of the seven sisters, only the state capitals of Assam and Tripura are connected now. New lines have been taken up to connect the capitals of Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram.
The railway investment in the region since 2005-06 has been Rs 5,684.90 crore.
The ministry thought of setting up a non-lapsable rail development fund for national projects but the plan is yet to be implemented. It has been proposed that 25 per cent of the funding will be done through railway gross budgetary support and the rest by the ministry of finance.
The financial health of the NF Railway is not good as it is spending more than it is earning. The operating ratio (indicator of money spent to earn an amount) of the NF Railway in the 2009-10 fiscal was 161 per cent, that is, it spent Rs 161 to earn Rs 100. A few years ago, the figure had touched 200.
“A large number of goods wagons go empty from the region as there is nothing much to be sent,” an NF Railway official said.

taj vivanta hits moef hurdle

Parking-space hitch in Guwahati Taj project
- Clearance on hold, environment ministry asks for sludge disposal details too
Guwahati, Aug. 10: The Union ministry of environment and forests has kept the environment clearance on hold for the construction of five-star Vivanta by Taj in the city for want of more information.
The foundation stone of the five-star hotel was laid on March 9 in the presence of Ratan Tata and Tarun Gogoi with pomp and grandeur.
Sources said the project came up for discussion at the meeting of the expert appraisal committee for building construction, coastal regulation zone, infrastructure development and miscellaneous projects under the ministry of environment and forests held in the last week of July in New Delhi.
The committee after going through the details provided by the project proponent, The Indian Hotels Company Limited, said the proposed parking space is inadequate.
The company said the total parking space proposed is for 262 ECS (equivalent car space). The committee has asked them to re-examine and submit the details based on the number of rooms, seating capacity of the restaurant and banquet halls.
Getting parking space has become a major problem in the city and with new infrastructure projects coming up it has become all the more difficult, which is turning into a nightmare for residents.
The committee said provision should also be made for parking of buses, taxis and staff cars.
The ministry has asked the company to submit the details of land features of the site and immediate adjacent area with slopes and drainage pattern. Not only that, it has also called for submission of details of sludge generation and its disposal. The ministry said provided the response of the project proponent to the aforesaid observations is satisfactory to the committee, the proposal may be considered for recommendation of clearance.
The ministry has imposed a number of conditions for compliance, which will be monitored.
The project involves construction of the hotel on an area of 20,146.57 square metre. The total built-up area is 33,112.46 square metre and the total water requirement is 243 kilolitre per day. While the total waste water generation is 118 kilolitre per day, the capacity of sewage treatment plant proposed is 180 kilolitre per day. The total solid waste generation will be 1,200kg per day.
The hotel will comprise 150 rooms, including suites, and will be built with a design theme inspired by local architecture. It will have an all-day dining restaurant, a speciality restaurant and a bar. An expansive spa and fitness centre will also add to its charm.
The environmental clearance process is required for 39 types of projects and covers varied aspects from screening to evaluation. The main purpose is to assess the impact of the planned project on the environment and people and to try to abate/minimise the same.
Sources said the ministry of environment and forests has constituted a committee yesterday to examine the issues relating to the monitoring of compliance of environment clearance conditions. The ministry has delved deep into the existing regulatory regime, the current system of monitoring, its limitations and the proposed new approach to monitoring.
The new proposed approach envisages involvement of specialised agencies/institutions in the monitoring of compliance of environment clearance conditions depending on their respective areas of specialisation.

now dung for rhino history

Dung to show the pattern of evolution
- Rhino excreta for research
Members of Aaranyak collect dung sample at Kaziranga National Park. A Telegraph picture
Guwahati, Sept. 6: Dung is now being used by scientists in Assam to find out the genetic diversity of Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), which will shed new light on its evolution and different aspects.
The wildlife genetics programme of Aaranyak has kicked off a two-year project, Population Genetic Monitoring of Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) in Assam — an Evaluation of Genetic Diversity and Population Differentiation through Non-invasive Sampling, with international collaboration and funding by the International Rhino Foundation and the Asian Rhino Project, Australia.
The programme is headed by Udayan Borthakur, a visiting research student at the department of ecology and evolution, University of Chicago, who is co-ordinating Aaranyak’s wildlife genetics programme.
Dung as a genetic sample has never been attempted on Indian rhinos (use of faeces as genetic samples is already established in species such as tiger, elephant and so on).
“The project uses dung as a source of genetic material in identifying different individuals, evaluating their genetic diversity and the effect of recent habitat fragmentation on this species of grave conservation concern,” Borthakur told The Telegraph.
The project will evaluate the contemporary extent of genetic diversity of the species in the protected areas of Assam, find out the extent of population differentiation among the protected areas, evaluate the effect of habitat fragmentation and other geographic features as a barrier to gene flow in the protected areas.
“Dung samples are used primarily to avoid capturing the animal for collecting samples. Other samples such as tissue, blood and so on can also be used, but these would involve trapping of the animals, or other forms of disturbance. Also, with using blood and tissue as samples for genetic study, the total number of samples (hence individuals) that can be covered becomes a limiting factor to a major population genetic study,” Borthakur said.
It is easy to get and collect as animals defecate regularly and storage and transport require little technology or expense. Unravelling the genetic diversity will help to learn how and from what ancestors a species evolved over millions of years, changes in geographic distribution, and behavioural characteristics.
Borthakur said the research is looking at the contemporary extent of genetic diversity. It will ascertain how much genetic diversity the current rhino populations such as Kaziranga, Orang and Pobitora holds, whether the distribution of genetic diversity among these areas is homogeneous or heterogeneous, and how habitat fragmentation is affecting contemporary genetic exchange among these areas.
“We are also looking at the pattern and direction of movement of rhinos among these protected areas. The expected output of this work is to answer these research questions,” he said. Rhinoceros dung samples from Kaziranga National Park, Orang National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary have already been collected.
Borthakur said the project aims at studying recent changes, that has occurred following rampant habitat destruction in past 100-200 years.
Experiments and analysis for the project are being done at the Wildlife Genetics Laboratory has been started by Aaranyak on its premises, which is the first of its kind in the Northeast.

rail advisories for curbs on jumbop deaths

Rail advisory to curb jumbo deaths

Guwahati, May 16: The Railway Board has for the first time issued advisories to prevent train accidents involving elephants following a hue and cry from several quarters, particularly animal rights groups, in Assam, where the gentle giants are being crushed under the wheels on a frequent basis.
About 37 per cent of the total cases of elephant mortality owing to train hits in the country is in Assam alone, which is the highest, followed by West Bengal, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand. Seven elephants have been mowed down by trains in Assam this year itself.
At a meeting with officials of Northeast Frontier (NF) Railway on Friday, representatives of the state forest department have expressed concern over the increasing cases of elephant deaths following train hits in Assam.
The NF Railway, responding to the forest department’s concern, said the Railway Board had issued advisories aimed at preventing such mishaps. The railway officials admitted that the issue had become serious and that they had a role to play.
“We have expressed our concern to them and said the speed limits were not been adhered as reported by my field personnel,” chief wildlife warden (Assam) Suresh Chand told The Telegraph today.
He also informed the railway authorities of the February 28 incident where despite information being passed on to the railway stationmaster at Azara on the movement of elephants in the area, nothing was done. A female elephant had died in the incident after being hit by a train at Deepor Beel, on the outskirts of the city.
The railways had said it would fully cooperate with the forest department.
Union environment minister Jairam Ramesh had taken note of the continuing accidents involving elephant deaths in the Azara section of late compared to others where the mishaps had come down.
Ramesh had desired that the board and the ministry of environment and forests work out advisories of a general nature to prevent elephant deaths in train accidents.
One of the important advisories is engagement of elephant trackers equipped with mobile phone/walkie-talkies to receive/pass on information regarding presence of elephant herds around tracks.
Separate wireless communication facility will be provided at the stations falling within the vulnerable areas identified. On receipt of information, the stationmaster will give “look out advice” to the train crew verbally or otherwise.
Chand said the state forest department would soon act on this.
On speed restrictions, it was decided that the ministry would inform the railways about the locations where such limits are required in Assam.
There are eight locations, which have been identified as vulnerable in Assam. Of them, two sites are in Guwahati, two in Karbi Anglong and one each in Digboi, Goalpara, Nagaon and in Gibbon wildlife sanctuary in Jorhat.
However, the railways have requested for a review on the issue of speed restrictions, given that such curbs might affect train movement.
On clearance of vegetation on either side of tracks, the zonal railways will identify in consultation with the forest department the vulnerable areas and arrange need-based cleaning.
The ministry had informed the railways that elephants get attracted to the food waste thrown in the forest areas by the pantry car staff.
The railways, on its part, said it would advise the pantry car staff not to throw the edible waste in the vulnerable areas and announcements would be made at stations near vulnerable locations advising passengers not to throw such waste.
The train drivers/guards/station masters will be sensitised on wildlife conservation during periodical refresher courses at nominated zonal railway training centres.




Panel to consider Manas danger tag
- National park’s fate to be decided at World Heritage Committee meet
Guwahati, July 31: After long years of wait, Manas finally has something to cheer about. The site will now be considered at the World Heritage Committee’s next session for removal from the World Heritage in Danger list.
“The site will be considered for removal from the list at the committee’s 35th session,” Mariam Kenza Ali, World Heritage conservation officer at IUCN, told The Telegraph by email from Brasilia, where the 34th meeting of World Heritage Committee is currently on.
She said there has been a change in the decision because of the new information submitted by the Indian delegation concerning the status of wildlife population.
The decision now also asks for an IUCN/ Unesco mission which will visit the site in spring 2011 and examine the data on wildlife population, to determine if the site is ready to come off the list.
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary was made World Heritage Site in 1985, but in 1992 it had to be put in the endangered category because of insurgency and various other factors.
Ali said IUCN is of the view that the site has made good progress and is ready to assist the government in analysing the results of wildlife monitoring and the surveys planned for 2010 and 2011, including a key tiger survey which is already being carried out.
As the government had not submitted the report on the state of conservation, requested by the World Heritage Committee at its 33rd session in Seville, Spain, the implementation of the corrective measures were difficult to assess.
However, IUCN has received reports from its network of scientists and members on certain aspects of the state of conservation of the property. The reports indicate that the park authorities, in collaboration with conservation NGOs, had recently developed wildlife monitoring techniques to maintain a database.
A number of conservation NGOs including Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Aaranyak and WWF-India, among others, will soon begin surveying the property’s tiger population and are currently monitoring the population of swamp deer, Hispid hare, Bengal florican, pygmy hog and the relocated one-horned rhinoceros.
The report says that the efforts to monitor wildlife population are welcome as these will be essential for demonstrating a clear upward trend in wildlife population. It will also allow a future decision on the removal of the property from the World Heritage in Danger list.
It further says that IUCN received reports of several local ecotourism groups building roads and other infrastructure within the property without the park authorities’ permission.
The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that the government should monitor the activities of these groups and increase control of vehicle movement. They recall the 2008 reactive monitoring mission’s recommendation to build a regional vision for its tourism development. “This has been taken care of now,” a park official in Manas told The Telegraph.
The IUCN has also received reports that the Sashastra Seema Bal on the Indo-Bhutan border is attempting to set up base camps within the property. The World Heritage Centre and IUCN recall that instability and presence of insurgent groups in the past were the origin of increased poaching incidences, which led to the inscription of the property on the list of World Heritage in Danger. They recommend that the governnment continue its efforts to ban these camps.