48 more tigers roar in Assam

48 more tiger roar in Assam

Guwahati, March 28: The Royal Bengal tiger is thriving in the abode of the one-horned rhino. In the past four years, there has been an increase of 48 tigers in Assam — approximately 16 per cent of the total increase of 295 tigers in the country.
The results of the All-India Tiger Estimation exercise, declared by Union environment and forest minister Jairam Ramesh in New Delhi today, shows that tiger conservation efforts have paid off.
According to the 2010 census, there are 1,706 tigers in the country now, compared to 1,411 big cats in 2006.
In the Northeast’s hills and Brahmaputra flood plains, the latest census report pegs the tiger population at 148 (or 8.67 per cent of the country's tigers) compared to 100 in 2006. Of the estimated 148 tigers, 143 are in Assam and five in Mizoram.
While the tiger population has increased by 48 in Assam, the report says it is stable in Mizoram and data collection is still under way in Arunachal Pradesh.
The report says the tiger population in the region could be between 118 and 178, which means that it cannot be lower than 118 and if counted properly, could reach 178.
The 2006 report had set the lower and upper limit of the tiger population in the Northeast between 84 and 118.
Referring to the latest estimate, a top forest official of the Assam forest department told this correspondent, “It is a very good estimate and is an encouraging sign. It reflects our efforts in tiger conservation.”
Firoz Ahmed, a wildlife biologist with Aaranyak, who is involved in camera trapping of tigers in Assam told The Telegraph, “The upper limit of 178 is more realistic. It will increase as we do more study in Arunachal Pradesh and Karbi Anglong.” He was present in Delhi when the report was released.

The result shows Assam’s Kaziranga National Park to be the best tiger reserve in the region. It is estimated to have 106 tigers, with the lower and upper limits estimated between 81 and 131, in 800 square km.
“We are on the right track and the trend is good. Work is still ongoing on,” a senior park official said.
The good situation in Kaziranga supports the report, which says, “The positive trends in tiger population estimates in source sites are encouraging. The fact that better protected tiger source sites have maintained viable tiger populations underscores the importance of strong managerial support.”
Of the other two tiger reserves in Assam, Manas and Pakke-Nameri national parks, the former has not fared well.
In Manas, the report says, there are nine tigers in 639 square km. Experts feel the lower and upper limits of tigers in the reserve could be between 15 and 18. Manas has already been categorised as a low-density tiger reserve. In November last year, the forest authorities of India and Bhutan had agreed to start a joint initiative to “camera trap” tigers moving across the international border.
The report estimate puts the tiger population in Pakke-Nameri as nine in 371 square km, with the lower and upper limits estimated between seven and 11. Some preliminary work had started in Pakke last year and the reserve reportedly recorded a density of only 1.9 tigers per 100 square km.
Dampa tiger reserve in Mizoram is estimated to have five tigers.

The report says the entire survey and research work of the 2010 estimations of tigers will soon be put into the public domain.

Government officials and wildlife scientists, however, have cautioned against complacency amid disturbing losses and disputes over counting of tigers.

The estimates for 2010 released by the Union environment and forests ministry suggest a 16 per cent increase in the number of tigers in all tiger landscapes except the Sunderbans where no assessment had been done in 2006.

But a conservation scientist said the 16 per cent increase would suggest a reversal of the previous decline of tigers.

The new counts suggest that tiger populations have over the past four years increased in the Shivalik-Gangetic plains, along the western ghats, and in the northeastern hills and the Brahmaputra flood plains, but have decreased in central India and eastern ghats.

Census co-ordinators say the effort involved an analysis of field data collected by trained personnel, a status analysis of tiger habitat via satellites, and camera capture to identify individual tigers on the basis of their unique stripe patterns.



tea crop loss hits inland container deport Amingaon


Tea crop loss because of pest attack has taken a toll this year on the inland container depot at Amingaon — the only dry port in the region —as 7 million kg of tea could not be sent.
Sources said 2,285 containers were sent in 2010-11, compared to 2,954 in 2009-10, which was the highest in the history of the inland container depot since its inception.
This year, the production in the Brahmaputra Valley from January to December 2010 recorded a crop decrease of 16 million kg, totalling
420 million kg, because of
incessant rainfall early in
the season leading to pest attacks, particularly in Upper Assam.
Around 36 rakes were sent from the inland container depot and the highest number of containers was by McLeod Russell, which sent 1,572 containers, followed by Apeejay and MK Shah Exports, which had sent 336 and 224 containers respectively.
In 2009-10, McLeod Russell had sent 2,273 containers. The rail-linked depot is under the Container Corporation of India Limited.
Gillanders Arbuthnot Limited, which had never sent tea from the depot, made its debut this year by sending six containers.
Nine companies are presently sending tea from the depot. Tea is mainly sent to the UK, Europe and West Asia.
Other countries where tea is also sent are Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Canada and the US.
Since 1986, when the depot became operational, 50,121kg of tea have been sent from here.
Huge investment has been made by the Container Corporation of India Limited, which is looking after the depot to improve facilities so that more tea could be sent.
“Every segment involved in despatching tea has been hit,” a source said.
Industry officials said more companies should use the route to export their tea for better use of the facility.
A number of shipping lines is involved in exporting tea, with the Shipping Corporation of India shipping the most — 1,135kg.
The increase in deduction from agriculture income on tea exported from the inland container depot at Amingaon from Rs 1 per kg to Rs 5 per kg of tea under the Assam Agricultural Income Tax Act, 1939, has helped tea produced in the state to remain competitive in the international market, which is encouraging companies to use the facility.
A tea industry official said though it has done well in the quality and price front, the export target of 200 million kg was unlikely to be met and was significantly down by 8 million kg to 190 million kg.
“We, therefore, will have to continue to strive to meet our export targets by producing more orthodox tea,” the official said.
He said it was imperative to continue manufacture good Assam orthodox to meet the growing international demand as this would also help in meeting the export targets, since vast majority of importing countries — barring Pakistan and Iraq — prefer orthodox to CTC tea.
The total turnover of tea industry in Assam is about Rs 5,000 crore and another 10 lakh people are dependent on this industry in the state, be it employment or services.


Experts defer green nod to Chandrapur

Experts defer green nod to Chandrapur


March 27: An expert panel of the ministry of environment and forests has deferred the approval of environmental clearance to the 60MW Chandrapur thermal power station which is crucial for power generation to consumers in the city.

A source today said the expert appraisal committee on environmental impact assessment of thermal power and coal mine projects under the ministry of environment and forests, has found that several pieces of information were missing which are important to the assessment of the feasibility of the project, taking into account the environmental concerns.

The decision was taken recently by the expert panel at a meeting held in New Delhi. The panel said the decision of granting environmental clearance would be taken later. Chandrapur is on the outskirts of the city.

The 60MW thermal power plant is now being revived under the public-private partnership mode with Imperial Energy and Construction Private Limited as the private partner.

The committee after deliberating on the project has asked the private partner to provide details of the board of directors in the company, audited annual reports and balance sheets for the last three years and details of open bid process for the refurbishment of the thermal power station. It said any other information, which may be relevant material to assess the management capability should also be presented.

The total cost of the project will be around Rs 227 crore of which Imperial Energy and Construction Private Limited will be investing Rs 197 crore.

The plant will currently be run by Imperial APGCL Power Limited — the special purpose vehicle created for running the project.

The project will require 3 lakh tonnes of coal per annum and it will be obtained from the coal block in Margherita.

Water requirement will be 556 cubic metres per hour, which will be sourced from the Kalang river through a pipeline at a distance of 2km from the project site.

There are no national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, tiger or biosphere reserves within 10km of the project site and, hence, the project will not need a forest clearance.

After revival, the two plants of the power station will produce 60MW power.

The joint venture agreement will remain in force for 15 years from the commercial operation date of the project.


Network plea to save child miners


Network plea to save child miners

- 20% kids from Nepal


Guwahati, March 25: A study on children engaged in rat-hole mining in coal mines of Jaintia Hills district has recommended establishing a network of cross-border partners in Nepal and Bangladesh so that child workers, who are trafficked to work in these mines, could safely be repatriated to their families.

The study, which has been done by Impulse, an NGO from Meghalaya that is working on child trafficking issues and HIV/AIDS, was investigating into the trafficking of children to work in the coal mines of Jaintia Hills.

Around 200 child labourers working in the coal mines of Jaintia Hills were interviewed by a team of field researchers, of whom 20 per cent described themselves as migrants from Nepal.

The study gives accounts of children from Nepal and other places who speak of the problems of working in the mines. The estimated coal reserves in Jaintia Hills are 40 million tonnes and coal extraction is done by primitive surface mining method, commonly known as “rat-hole” mining. In this method, the land is first cleared by cutting and removing the ground vegetation and then pits, ranging from 5 to 100 square metres, are dug into the ground to reach the coal seam.

The study includes the accounts of a 16-year-old boy, Kumarbhai, who has come from Kotang, Nepal, with his maternal uncle and has been working in the mines, where he pulls coal trolleys, for seven months.

“He has not gone home in a year but will visit this year. He says there is a danger of the roof of the mines collapsing. He even knows of four people who have died inside the mines, three inside the pits and one who fell from the bamboo scaffolding. No safety equipment is provided to them in the mines,” the study quotes Kumarbhai.

“From the interviews of mine managers, owners and children, it was found that owners of the mines maintain a strong network with middlemen in Nepal. During peak mining season from October to May, mine owners or managers send information to these middlemen on their requirement of child labourers in the mines. These middlemen go into villages and convince poor families to send their children to work in the coal mines,” the study says.

It says poverty is the primary reason that drives families in Nepal to send their children to work in the mines since they are convinced by the middlemen that there is substantial money to be made by working in the coal mines of Meghalaya.

“The fact that both the families and the children were unaware of the kind of work they would be involved in, indicates that there was deception at play in luring them to work in the mines. However, details of the spread of the network of middlemen or the amount of commission earned by them are outside the scope of this study. A more extensive cross-border analysis is required to unearth the detailed process of recruitment of children,” it says.

DNA study of manas tigers

DNA study of Manas tigers
Guwahati, March 21: The success of genetic assessment of tigers at Buxa tiger reserve in north Bengal has inspired the authorities to begin a similar endeavour at Manas.
“Our work in Buxa has received wide acclaim and we have started the assessment at Manas,” Udayan Borthakur, the head of wildlife, genetics division, of Aaranyak, said.
The authorities at Buxa tiger reserve had asked Aaranyak, a wildlife NGO of Assam, which has its own wildlife genetics laboratory, to carry out genetic assessment of the tiger population.
There are at present 15 tigers in Buxa, three male and nine female. The gender of the three remaining ones could not be identified following the methodology used for the study.
The Buxa experiment was mentioned in Stripes — a bi-monthly outreach journal of National Tiger Conservation Authority.
Borthakur said stringent laboratory conditions were maintained to assess and minimise errors associated with genetic identification of individuals.
“The use of DNA analysis from scats at times is useful to get the minimum estimate of the tiger population,” said Rajesh Gopal,  member secretary of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
With a dwindling global population, an estimate of the minimum number of tigers has always been a source of curiosity to wildlife researchers and to managers of protected areas.
“Our study showed that DNA-based techniques of identification of tigers may be considered a practical and low cost option to estimate their population and the long-term monitoring of this species in the protected areas of the country,” Borthakur said.
He said the DNA-based study was important in low-density tiger areas.
“The best thing is that faecal samples are easy to collect and not much cost and logistics are required. Unlike camera trapping where huge costs are involved and lot of logistics are involved, this experiment is cheaper,” he said.
The Manas tiger reserve authorities had requested Aaranyak to carry out the genetic assessment of tigers.
“Faecal samples have been collected from Bansbari and part of Panbari range,” Borthakur said, adding that the samples were collected by the tiger reserve authorities and handed to them.
Gopal said as genetic information is useful for wildlife forensics, besides population estimation, the National Tiger Conservation Authority is currently talking to experts in the field to standardise a uniform protocol for field data collection and analysis.
Manas has a tiger population ranging from 15 to 18.


Courage, a WWF criterion


Courage, a WWF criterion

- Girls put abduction behind them to head for new project


Guwahati, March 18: Wildlife conservation is certainly not for the chicken-hearted, WWF volunteers Tarali Goswami and Shrabana Goswami have proved.

A little over a month after being abducted at gunpoint from Chirang reserve forest during a tiger census, and released after a 48-hour ordeal, the girls are packing their bags again — this time to head for a two month tiger  project in Arunachal Pradesh — undaunted by the risks they had faced.

The two were part of the six-member group kidnapped on February 6, are scheduled to leave on Monday.

While Tarali, Shrabana and their friend Pallabi Chakraborty were released after two days, the three boys in the team were freed after lengthy negotiations.

“These things (incidents) can’t dampen our spirit, physically and mentally,” Pallabi had said after being released.

Tarali and Shrabana have proved Pallabi right.

The two girls, along with David Smith — who was part of the Chirang reserve forest group but escaped abduction — will now spot tigers in the picturesque high-altitude Zemithang valley of Tawang.

The rest of the group is involved in data entry at the office of WWF North Bank Landscape Programme at Tezpur and will be deployed elsewhere.

“We are determined and we should not be afraid. Incidents do happen but the spirit to do work should guide us,” Tarali said.

“We also have a lot of support from our parents,” she added.

Smith, who is from Tenga area of Arunachal Pradesh, is looking forward to the adventure of sighting tigers in Zemithang.

“Our seniors at WWF have helped us a lot in overcoming the tensions. The love of nature has helped us to go ahead,” he said.

Shrabana, too, looked geared up for the project.

“The incident (abduction) was an accident and accidents do happen,” said Shrabana, adding she was prepared to climb to the high-altitude Zemithang.

The area where the youths will be working is between 3,000-6,000 feet and borders Bhutan.

The WWF is happy that the youths have been able to put the abduction behind them.

“They are very young but have not taken this incident negatively. The best part is that they have seen it as a part of life,” said Anupam Sarmah, senior coordinator, North Bank Landscape Programme, WWF India.

The tiger estimation project in Zemithang is being undertaken after villagers informed of tiger presence.

This is also the first place outside a protected area where a survey is being carried out. “We have prepared maps of the places where the tigers are expected to be sighted. We will try to get some signs and once confirmed, we will go for camera trapping,” the official said.

The Arunachal Pradesh forest department is providing all the support required for tiger estimation.

“They are very keen to see the tiger estimation being done in their state,” the official said.

Moef asks GMDA for EIA for games village


 The ministry of environment and forests has asked Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA) to prepare an environmental impact assessment plan for the expansion project of the National Games Village at Basistha, to get a clear picture before granting environmental clearance to the project.
This was decided in the 97th meeting of the ministry’s expert appraisal committee for building or construction projects, township and area development projects, coastal regulation zone, infrastructure development and miscellaneous projects held last month in New Delhi.
The project involves development of residential and commercial buildings and a shopping complex on a plot with an area of 93,645 square metre, out of which 36,957.86 square metre will be developed as extension in the second phase.
The ministry said as the project had been found to be under the B1 category, it would require an environmental impact assessment.
After the project is completed, the total daily water requirement would be 1,217 kilolitre and the total solid waste generated every day would be 3 tonnes. The total proposed parking space will accommodate 790 cars.
It has asked for preparation of a site plan showing the project site and its surroundings with physical features and added that topographical details, such as land use, contours and drainage pattern, along with photographs of the site from all four sides, should be included in the background information.
It also called for detailed examination of the proposed site vis-à-vis impact on water supply infrastructure, stormwater drainage, sewerage and power and also impact of the disposed treated/raw wastes from the complex on the land/water bodies and the sewerage system. The executing agency will also have to carry out hydro-geological investigations and seek permission from the Central Ground Water Authority before extracting ground water for the project. The green belt and open spaces should also be spelt out in the plan.
The ministry said arrangements for hazardous waste management, involving waste collection, treatment and recycling and disposal of all effluents, emissions and refuse, including municipal solid waste, biomedical and hazardous wastes, should be stated in the plan. Water quality with reference to persistent organic pollutants should also be elaborated.
Other components sought by the ministry include a disaster management plan, a traffic management plan, describing the parking and loading/unloading areas, a traffic survey, carried out both on weekdays and weekends, and a service road for entry and exit to project site.
It has also asked for a study of the existing flora and fauna in the area and the impact of the project on them.


ADB for Assam urban growth

ADB to chart road map for urban growth
Guwahati, March 13: The Asian Development Bank is charting out a 10-year urban development road map for Assam for the benefit of the underprivileged sections.
A source said the state government had informed the ADB that it was planning to invest in urban infrastructure and required a road map for the purpose.
He added that the statewide urban sector development road map for 2011-2020 would look into the current status of urban service delivery in Assam and provide strategic directions for the sector.
It will strive to ensure access for the underprivileged and other disadvantaged groups.
The ADB is already helping Assam in a number of projects, as the Centre has requested the bank to help the state.
“The road map will assess the extent to which limited urban service delivery is a binding constraint on growth, poverty reduction, gender and development, and balanced growth,” it said.
In fact, barring Guwahati, no other city in the state has a development plan through which it can get good investment.
The bank will list the success factors required to achieve higher efficiency and economy in service delivery in the state.
It will also assess the constraints on efficient and equitable delivery of urban services, highlighting the various bottlenecks, risks, and mitigation measures.
There will be a detailed assessment of investment requirements and plans.
“There will be an assessment of the strategic, legal, and regulatory framework for urban development in Assam, including the extent to which they are socially inclusive and gender-responsive,” the source said.
The bank will analyse the urban local organisations and its reforms to ensure a gender balance in the composition of the bodies and ensure women’s participation in decision making to make urban development efficient.
“It will help the urban local bodies to make investment meaningful and sustainable,” the source said.
The plan will have capacity building programmes that include training on mainstreaming social and gender concerns into the programmes of government, and a long list of training providers.


Absenteeism hits Assam tea industry

Absenteeism blow to tea
Guwahati, March 13: The problem of rising absenteeism has hit the tea industry in Assam hard despite counselling of workers and continuous efforts to curb the trend.
“It is true that in spite of our best efforts and counselling, the attendance of workers following weekends is alarmingly low. The problem of absenteeism is further compounded by shortage of temporary workers,” a top tea official said.
The issue was deliberated on at the 121st annual general meeting of Assam Branch of Indian Tea Association in Dibrugarh last month and will be followed up in another meeting between the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha (ACMS) and the tea industry in Dibrugarh on March 15.
Last year, at the signing of the wage revision agreement, the tea workers’ organisation had decided to opt for counselling to control absenteeism.
“This has also not resulted in anything positive,” the official said. He said it was very difficult to give an overall figure of absenteeism, but sources have estimated the figure to be in the range of 15-20 per cent, which varies from garden to garden.
“It is a serious issue and we would once again request the tea workers’ unions to impress upon their constituents the necessity to curb absenteeism, which has a direct bearing on our cost of production so that the viability of the industry is sustained,” the official said.
According to industry sources, with gainful employment elsewhere, the workers were opting out of garden work, while retaining the facilities of the estates.
“This has become a very serious issue and needs to be addressed with mechanisation as well as strong disciplinary measures,” he said.
The official said cost control still continues to be the major concern of the industry with labour wages constituting 50 per cent of the total cost of production.
“Although much has been discussed on the need to address the social cost, the government is yet to formalise programmes to mitigating this cost and making our tea competitive in the international market, since other tea producing countries are not burdened with such costs,” the official said. He said the social cost, which is borne by the industry to provide housing, health, sanitation and other facilities to its workers, is now Rs 9 per kg of made tea.
The tea industry in Assam employs around 10 lakh people, both permanent and casual, with another 30 lakh living off the industry.
“The continued viability of the tea industry is of paramount importance in order to sustain the survival of the large rural population it supports and its role in the economic development of the backward areas where our operations are based,” the official said.
A productivity-linked incentive scheme was introduced last year but because of erratic weather conditions and lower crop, the full potential of the scheme could not be achieved.
“We are hoping that during the coming season the workers will be able to achieve the full potential of the scheme. The productivity of workers is vital to the sustainability of this industry. We are hopeful that our workers will respond positively and fully utilise the potential of the scheme,” he said.
Under this productivity-linked scheme, garden labourers in Assam will now have to pluck 23kg compared to 21kg earlier and will get an incentive of 55 paise per kg.


Assam 1950 quake in 2011


Experts map effects of 1950 quake

- Study shows massive loss


Burnt-out vehicles, which were parked for export, are piled in disarray at a port at Tokai village in Japan’s Ibaraki prefecture after the tsunami. (AFP)

Guwahati, March 13: When an earthquake-ready Japan was swept away, defenceless, by the powerful tremor last Friday, many in Guwahati and the rest of the quake-prone zone began wondering what the damages would be like if the 1950 Assam quake that killed 1,500 people hit the state in 2011.

Two scientists — Kishor Jaiswal and David Wald of the United States Geological Survey — have developed an earthquake scenario in the Northeast applying the parameters of the 1950 earthquake on the Prompt Assessment of Global Earthquakes for Response.

This assessment is an automated system developed by the geological survey that produces content concerning the impact of significant earthquakes around the world, informing emergency responders, government and aid agencies, about the scope of potential disasters.

A background paper on Recreating 1950 Earthquake Scenario in 2011 was presented at the National Conference on Earthquake Risk Mitigation Strategy in Guwahati on February 24-25.

The 1950 Assam recorded 8.7 magnitude on the Richter scale, compared to the 8.9 tremor that North Japan experienced last Friday.

If the 1950 quake struck Assam today, 19,000 people may experience violent shaking, 370,000 people may experience “severe shaking” which generally contributes to heavy damage, and approximately 14 million people may experience moderate to very strong shaking, the research states.

The model prepared the United States Geological Survey also categorises earthquake-related damages into three categories and indicates the response required.

If the indicator is “green”, then no response is required, for “yellow”, the response is required locally, “orange” requires national response while “red” requires international response.

This model indicates that in case of a 1950-like quake in 2011, it would be a “red alert”, with probability of high casualties.

It also gives “red alert” for economic losses. The damage and economic impact will be widespread and may require national or international response.

On the cities to be affected by the quake, the study said towns like Tinsukia, Sivasagar, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Margherita, Golaghat and Naharkatia would bear the maximum brunt.

Other towns in the region, including, Pasighat, Kohima, Dimapur, Khonsa, Myitkyina will also be affected.

Besides killing 1,500 people, the 1950 quake had triggered a large number of landslides that affected many tributaries of Brahmaputra and changed the course of the river itself.

Large areas of the river valleys were flooded; tracts of fertile agricultural land became parts of river bed, while many areas irrigated by river water became dry.

The scientists from the geological survey have clarified that this is a hypothetical scenario described based on discussions with Indian counterparts and the location, depth, magnitude and other parameters inferred from the 1950 earthquake.

P.G. Dhar Chakrabarti, executive director, the National Institute of Disaster Management, said the 1950 earthquake had killed 1,500 people when the total population of the Northeast was about 10 million and the urban population hardly 2 lakh.

“Today, the population of the region has multiplied nearly five times to nearly 49 million and the urban population has swelled 45 times to nearly 9 million. Simple application of arithmetic would suggest a casualty figure that would not be very different from some of the worst earthquakes recorded in recent years elsewhere in the world,” he said.

He said the epicentre of the 1950 earthquake was located far away from the inhabited areas in a remote corner of the Arunachal-Tibet border.

If a similar earthquake occurs in a location nearer the capital cities, like the densely populated Guwahati, the casualties could be beyond anybody’s imagination.

It is necessary that reputed academic and research institutions, including the National Institute of Disaster Management, develops such worst-case scenarios based on available information to identify critical gaps in earthquake mitigation and preparedness in the region.

The road map developed by the National Institute of Disaster Management for earthquake risk management in the Northeast says that the scenarios developed for earthquakes with more than 8 on the Richter scale project massive loss of life and property and enormous damage to infrastructure and environment.

“While it would not be possible to prevent the occurrence of such mega earthquakes, it is possible to mitigate the impact of such earthquakes by retrofitting the built environment and reduce the loss of lives and property by better preparedness,” it said.


Eco-sensitive tag for Kaziranga


Guwahati, March 10:Keeping an eye into the future so that it does not fall a victim to the  "pressures" around it, Kaziranga National Park authorities are planning to declare an area of 10km around it as an eco sensitive zone.

A park official said the authorities were going ahead with declaring the park as an eco-sensitive zone, which would classify activities into three areas — prohibited, regulated and permissible — to minimise, or preferably eliminate, any negative impact on it and ensure that the park is safe for the future.

The basic aim of an eco sensitive zone is to regulate certain activities around national park or wildlife sanctuary so as to minimise the negative impacts on the fragile ecosystem encompassing the protected area.

The "pressures" which the national park which is also a World Heritage Site are from floods, economic activities, climate change, land use change and road development around it.

Assam’s chief wildlife warden Suresh Chand said the eco-sensitive zone will be notified by June. The ministry of environment and forests has already prepared an indicative set of activities under three categories — prohibited, regulated with safeguards and permissible for consideration.

This set of activities, prepared by the Centre for consideration, has placed construction of hotels and resorts in the regulated category. This actually belies concerns raised by many that hotels and resorts around the park will be prohibited. Fencing of premises of hotels and lodges have also been put in the regulated category along with widening of roads.

The Centre has asked the state to convey a strong message to the public that an eco-sensitive zone is not meant to hamper their day-to-day activities but to protect the zone from any negative impact and refine the environment around the area.

“All this propaganda by some people that their businesses will be affected is simply false. What we are saying is that it needs to be regulated with safeguards so that there is no negative impact on the park. We will have to look towards the future of the park and we do not want it to be doomed,” a forest official said.

A joint paper by Unesco — United Nations Foundation on Opportunities and Challenges for Kaziranga National Park over the Next Fifty Years — a few years back had already warned about the future threats. It said the “continued survival of Kaziranga National Park over the next century and consolidation of the conservation successes achieved in the last hundred years will therefore depend to a large extent on what happens beyond the park’s boundaries and also on ensuring that management options elsewhere, in the river and in the surrounding landscape, do not undermine the ecology and integrity of the park.”

There is already a directive from the ministry that an inventory of different land use patterns, types of activities and types and number of industries operating near the protected area, be carried out for declaration of an eco-sensitive zone.


Alert on use of park land in Kaziranga

Alert on use of park land

- Govt seeks report on change in plots around Kaziranga


Guwahati, March 9: Plots acquired to set up “farms” near Kaziranga have allegedly been transformed into resorts, prompting the state government to issue notices to hotel owners asking them if they have taken necessary permission for the change.

Technically called “change in land use”, it refers to any “transformation” brought about on a plot apart from the expressed purpose it was acquired for.

Officials in the Golaghat and Nagaon district administrations said notices have been issued recently to all concerned, quizzing them on the steps they had taken on land use change.

“It is true that many of these had undergone land use change without taking permission from the necessary authorities. This has led to problems galore,” an official in the Kaliabor subdivision of Nagaon district said.

“A vast majority of them have converted farmland into hotels and other things without going through the necessary procedure,” the official said.

The action came after the Kaziranga bio-diversity conservation committee, which is now looking into the impact of development on the park, wanted to ascertain whether permission had been taken by the hospitality industry before setting up hotels or resorts.

It wants to ensure that the park does not suffer damage because of unrestricted tourism.

The official said they have received replies from various resort/hotels owners who said their activities had done no harm to the park and they were working for the conservation of the national park.

“They have given affidavits saying so and some of them have also gone to court and in one case we got a verdict in our favour,” the official added.

“We wanted to know the status of activities outside the park and how they have come about. We want the park to be safe for the future,” principal secretary (revenue) V.K. Pipersenia, who is also a member of the committee, said.

He said once they get the report, they will send it to the government.

“The government will take a holistic view of the situation, as closing down hotels would also not be realistic,” the official added.

A source said the committee has also suggested that for any new construction involving change in land use, the person concerned will have to get a no-objection from the office of director Kaziranga National Park.

“This has to be done otherwise people will apply for farmland and then start some other business. Many have done it, which is already causing harm. We have to be strict, otherwise the future of the park is at stake,” the source said.

“There was also a suggestion from the committee for a hotel zone in Jhakalabandha area where all such constructions would take place,” he said.

The biggest problem in this case is the lack of legislation in the state to stop the change of land use, an official said.

kaziranga rhinos for translocation


Park gears up for rhino shift
- First transport from Kaziranga to enrich Manas gene pool
Guwahati, March 8: Four Kaziranga rhinos will be captured, tranquillised and transported to Manas, 450km from their home — all for the good cause of strengthening the animal’s genetic diversity.
This will be the first ever rhino translocation from Kaziranga under Indian Rhino Vision 2020 to ensure that Manas National Park has a good range and mix of rhino genes.
Preparations for the translocation of the animals that weigh between 1,600 and 2,000kg — scheduled for March 23 — will begin in a few days.
“We will be getting the official papers on the translocation programme in a couple of days. With elections around the corner, getting security for conducting the programme will be a problem. This is a risky exercise as a slight mistake can lead to disasters,” a Kaziranga official said.
Eight rhinos have been translocated successfully to Manas National Park from Pobitora wildlife sanctuary in three rounds after the programme started in 2008.
“It is important to have genetic diversity of a species as it helps the animal adapt to different circumstances and gives it a better future for survival,” Udayan Borthakur, head of the wildlife genetics programme at Aaranyak, an NGO working on wildlife programmes, said.
If genes are not mixed, it also reduces an animal’s capacity to fight diseases.
“There has been no comprehensive study of genetic diversity of rhinos in the wild as of now. But Aaranyak has started a study using dung which will shed new light on its evolution,” Borthakur said.
The study will end by July. The project will also evaluate the effect of habitat fragmentation and other geographic barriers on movement of genes from one population to another in protected areas.


Peace & space for jumbos

Peace & space for jumbos
- Report on highway development and elephant path
Guwahati, March 7: To ensure that both development and wildlife blend harmoniously, WWF India has suggested a series of mitigative measures to the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) so that wildlife in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape which bisects Lumding reserve forest is not drastically affected by the development of NH-54E. The road is being upgraded to a four-lane highway.
A report, Ensuring Safe Access to Wildlife in Lumding Reserve Forest, brought out by WWF India was released today. It says that balancing the need for rapid infrastructure development like the NH-54E — which goes via Lumding reserve forest — with the need to keep the wilderness areas from being impacted is a typical example of the type of situation where it is important to find a solution that will set a precedent.
The bisection of the entire reach of the Lumding reserve forest, an important elephant habitat, by the existing road has not severely affected the movement of elephants.
However it could do so once the road gets upgraded and traffic intensity and speed increases, the report adds.
At present, there are only two passages in a stretch of 24.6km of elephant habitat which is not at all sufficient as the elephants cross through almost the entire stretch of this road.
According to the report, more elephant passages at suitable locations are required and landscaping of the area should also be done so that it does not have any negative impact for the inhabiting wildlife in their natural movement.
It also pointed out that construction period of the passage in the area should be so selected that the elephants are away on seasonal migration. This will reduce any disturbance to the elephants because of construction activities and thus reduce chances of conflict.
The 22,403-hectare Lumding reserve forest is an important wildlife habitat in Nagaon district and stretches through Lanka and Lumding ranges of Nagaon South forest division and was notified as part of Dhansiri-Lumding elephant reserve in 2003.
A WWF field team had recorded canopy continuity over the road within the stretch from Lankajan to Lumding at 119 places indicating that hoolock gibbons and other arboreal mammals at that time could cross the road at many places without fear of being run over by speeding vehicles. Hoolock gibbons are territorial and exclusively arboreal. Any widening would immediately remove the existing 119 sites where canopy continuity was recorded.
The conservation agency has suggested making artificial lianas (woody climbers) which can be connected at regular intervals of 1 or 2km across the road from tall trees. “These lianas can be made locally and last for many years and almost all arboreal mammals have been seen to use them,” it said.
It says that the spirit of dialogue between a conservation organisation and a development agency such as the NHAI should be seen as a model for other such development projects to protect the country’s wilderness areas.


stories of women on streets in Assam public now


Hidden in full view.
But not anymore now.
The  relentless work of Ashadeep- a mental health society  in picking up mentally ill women from the streets of Guwahati and elsewhere has finally got them some reward with Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mumbai bringing out a publication for the first time by the name of "Hidden in Full View-- Stories of Hope from Ashadeep".
The publication says that over the past five years, Ashadeep has been a beacon of hope to the lives of destitute and abandoned women and has provided them not merely with a home, but a haven and a sanctuary. Of the 284 women rescued, this collection of vignettes sketches briefly the stories of around twenty.
The book presents the stories of these women for the first time in public and says that the initial years were a maelstrom of events, crowded with operations, strategies, counsels, searches and excursions both pleasant and strange. " But as Ashadeep gains experience in pre and post rescue methods, the number of failures fall, facilities improve and support-- official and otherwise-- grows, making work easier.
" It is a humbling thought , that in spite of the persistent and arduous job the staff of Ashadeep faces, the role played by them is always presented in a self-efficacing and muted manner and there is seldom a self congratulatory note or a pat on their own backs for the success they have achieved in the face of adverse conditions. The fact that Ashadeep fills a vacuum in the area of mental health in the state of Assam cannot be denied" Dr Firdaus Gandavia secretary of Sir Ratan Tata Trust says in the foreword.
It further says that " our lives are touched by the accounts of these tormented and persecuted women. Some of them wander away away from home under influence of the illness while others have been abandoned by their families. One only wishes that their stories could have been longer".
The author of the publication is Ronojoy Sen an architect from Guwahati.
Ashadeep started in 1996 in response to the lack of facilities for psychiatric rehabilitation in Assam. It began its work with homeless mentally ill women in 2005 rescuing 43 women of the streets in the first year. It has reunited these women with their families in states like Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Chattisgarh and Gujarat.
On the bringing out of the publication by Sir Ratan Tata Trust, Mukul Goswami co-founder of Ashadeep told The Telegraph " that the trust has acknowledged our work and the sighting of mentally ill women lying on the streets has become rare now though not completely finished.
" We follow up the cases of the reunited ones so that there is no relapse" he said.
It started 'Navachetana'- a home for homeless mentally ill women in Guwahati with the help of Sir Ratan Tata Trust in an attempt to rehabilitate the mentally affected homeless women lying on the streets.
"The experience of Navachetana has shown that between 65-70 percent  of the rehabilitated women can be reintegrated with their families. 15-20 percent  of them become functional, however, their families cannot be traced, and 10 percent  of them are severely disabled, and hence, locating their families and reintegrating them is very difficult" Goswami says.


lower import duty hits northeast india incense stick industry

Cut in import duty to hit incense units
Guwahati, March 4: The reduction in import duty from 30 per cent to 10 per cent on bamboo sticks for agarbatti (incense stick) will hit the industry in the Northeast, affecting nearly 30,000 women whose average income is between Rs 75 and Rs 105 daily.

Announced in the Union budget on February 28, the relaxation in the import duty will leave the artisans involved in this sector jobless, as there will a rise in the import of bamboo sticks from Vietnam and China.
“The reduction in duty from 30 per cent to 10 per cent will hit artisans of the region as this will enable import of cheap bamboo sticks from Vietnam and China which will render families involved in the industry jobless. This should be withdrawn and the import duty increased to 50 per cent,” Kamesh Salam, director Cane and Bamboo Technology Centre, told The Telegraph.
Sources said about 2 billion sticks are burnt everyday of which states like Tripura and others from the region fulfil 90 per cent demand of the raw sticks.
The Northeast produces 1 million tonnes of agarbatti sticks annually and there is potential for the market to increase through mechanisation of the splint-making process.
The landed price — the total expense of receiving goods at place of retail sale, including retail purchase price, transportation costs, duties, value added taxes, excise tax and other taxes — of sticks at Bangalore is around Rs 33 to Rs 35 per kg from the Northeast and the landed price of sticks from Vietnam was Rs 35 to Rs 36 per kg.
After the budget the expected price will be Rs 29 to Rs 30 per kg.
A feasibility study on establishing agarbatti manufacturing units in the Northeast found that the stick-making units in Tinsukia are facing serious competition from neighbouring countries like Vietnam and China.
The study was done by the National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management, Hyderabad, for Cane and Bamboo Technology Centre, Guwahati.
“Because of cheaper sticks that these countries are able to supply to vendors in Bangalore, the stick-making units in Tinsukia are not getting a good price. According to an estimate, if there would have been no competition from the neighbouring countries the industries in Tinsukia could have even fetched nearly Rs 80 per kg instead of Rs 35 per kg,” the study said.
Currently, the traders in the region buy bamboo sticks from individual rural household producers who are paid according to the number sticks produced. They grade the sticks based on count (number of sticks in a 1kg bundle), pack into gunny bags and truck them to large agarbatti producing companies to mainly Bangalore and Mysore.
The study also revealed that home-based workers producing bamboo sticks receive a little over 2 per cent of the final retail value.
“For these women, incense stick-making is the only income and if the import rates are lowered, their business would be affected as cheaper bamboo sticks would be preferred,” a source said.
The study recommended that agarbatti workers of the Northeast should be covered under the Minimum Wage Legislation. They should be covered by the Provident Fund Act and should get other benefits.
Agarbatti is a booming market in the country and is estimated at Rs 2,000 crore. In India, there are more than 10,000 units operating in the sector, with unregistered units outnumbering the registered ones. These units are spread across rural and semi-urban households, providing employment opportunities to nearly 800,000 household-based women workers.