The raging debate in Assam over construction of big dams in the Northeast seems to have drawn the attention of the World Heritage Committee on the future of Kaziranga.
The committee during its 35th meeting that concluded in Paris on June 29, has asked the Centre to keep it informed about any planned developments, including dams, which could have a negative impact on the “outstanding universal value” of Kaziranga national park in accordance with paragraph 172 of the convention’s operational guidelines.
The committee also expressed regret over the fact that the Centre had neither submitted a report on the state of conservation of the national park nor an environmental impact assessment of the alternatives to the proposed upgrade of NH37, as requested by it after its 33rd session in 2009 and has asked the latter to furnish these reports within February 1, 2012.
It has also asked for data on key wildlife populations of the park and poaching records.
Paragraph 172 of the Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention says: “The World Heritage Committee invites the states, parties to the convention, to inform the committee, through the secretariat, of their intention to undertake or to authorise, in an area protected under the Convention, major restorations or new constructions, which may affect the outstanding universal value of the property. Notice should be given as soon as possible (for instance, before drafting basic documents for specific projects) and before making any decisions that would be difficult to reverse, so that the committee may assist in seeking appropriate solutions to ensure that the outstanding universal value of the property is fully preserved.”
A number of organisations from all over the state have been protesting against construction of big dams in the region, voicing apprehensions about the impact of such dams on the ecology of the downstream areas.
In 2005, a joint paper by Unesco and United Nations Foundation — Opportunities and Challenges for Kaziranga National Park over the Next Fifty Years — had already warned about future threats to the park.
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 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.
In fact, the park is already taking steps to declare an area of 10km around it an eco-sensitive zone to help restrict or prohibit activities that are not conducive to the park’s future. It will also ensure that it does not fall prey to “pressures” like floods, economic activities, climate-change, change in land-use patterns and development of roadways.
Regarding the committee’s allegation about non-submission of the state of conservation report, park director Surajit Dutta told The Telegraph: “We had submitted the report to the Centre through proper channels a long time back.”
On the other hand, the National Highway Authority of India has abandoned its plans to upgrade NH37, which runs along the southern boundary of the park, and is considering a new alignment that will circumvent the park along an existing road on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra.
The good news for Kaziranga, however, is that the committee has received reports from International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) that the park authorities have increased efforts to prevent poaching, and that poaching is now largely under control.
The committee has also asked the park authorities to develop and implement a monitoring and management system to curb the spread of invasive species of shrubs like mimosa rubicaulis and mimosa invisa.