After tiger, heron to benefit friom Indo-Bhutan wildlife cooperation

Heron guardians’ to save endangered species
- Global coalition collaborates for rare bird survival on Indo-Bhutan border

After the tiger, the white-bellied heron is the next species to benefit from Indo-Bhutan transboundary co-operation.
The project, supported by SOS - Save our Species, a global coalition initiated by the three founding partners - International Union for Conservaton of Nature, Global Environment Facility and World Bank, has chosen three sites in Manas tiger reserve in Assam all along the Indo-Bhutan border for conservation of white-bellied heron. The habitat is undisturbed and the contiguous area with Bhutan still protected.
Also known as the imperial heron, the white-bellied heron (Ardea Insignis) is the second largest species of heron in the world, exceeded in size only by the Goliath heron (Ardea Goliath). According to BirdLife International, the white-bellied heron is critically endangered because it has an extremely small and rapidly declining population. This decline is projected to increase as a result of the loss and degradation of lowland forests and wetlands, and through direct exploitation and disturbance.
“It is a species for which a complete population census has not been conducted globally. The current population globally is estimated to be 50-249 mature individuals,” said a spokesperson for BirdLife. The project is being implemented by Bangalore-based Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, which operates in the Northeast.
“The northern border of the project sites is along the foothills of the India-Bhutan border and this area is pristine and protected because of the presence of the Royal Manas National Park,” the project document states.
The project sites where activities will be implemented are Koilamoila in Manas reserve forest near Bhutan foothills; forests around Pagladiya river under Subankhata reserve forest; and Phibsu river under Kachugaon reserve forest. Field director of Manas tiger reserve A. Swargiary said the sighting of the bird is very difficult and population census has still not been conducted. An official of the Ashoka Trust said the three-year project will strive to protect sites of occurrence and habitats critical to species survival, establish and initiate community based participatory monitoring, and undertake an extensive awareness and sensitisation programme aimed at local stakeholders. The project hopes to achieve these objectives through a set of activities that include creating a cadre of local “heron guardians”, facilitating community sanctioned “no go” areas around identified nesting sites, developing and implementing a monitoring protocol, initiating transboundary interactions to share data, lessons and experiences and organising campaigns and awareness raising events.
The trust had commissioned a rapid survey which was carried out by Bongaigaon-based NGO, Nature’s Foster, in 2009-10. It recorded only three individuals of this species in two different locations of western Assam. “The expected outcomes are community-led habitat protection, a consistent and updated information base and an overall reduction of threats. The project will be implemented in partnership, collaboration and coordination with the various civil society organisations and government agencies in the area,” the official said.


Export only quality tea, says Tea Board

Eye on quality tea export

The Tea Board of India chairman talks to Roopak Goswami of The Telegraph about the board’s focus areas during the Twelfth Plan.
Where is Indian tea now positioned in the world, not just quantitativ-ely, but qualitatively? The ind-ustry has often been saying that it is quality conscious yet we still do not export that much as we keep on failing on our targets. What is the way out?
A: At the global level India is still the largest producer of black tea. However, in terms of total production, China ranks first and India is the second largest tea-producing country.
Quality-wise Indian teas continue to command a good image as teas originating from Darjeeling, Assam and the Nilgiris are well known for their quality the world over. The depression, which lasted for more than eight years during the past decade, made the industry focus more on quality production. Unlike the other major tea-producing and exporting countries, the situation in India is quite different.
For the leading exporting countries like Kenya and Sri Lanka, tea is a major foreign exchange earner, and they export almost 95 to 98 per cent of their total production. On the other hand, in India there is a strong domestic market and more than 80 per cent of the total production is domestically consumed. Because of this, there is not much of a compulsion on anyone to put stress on exporting teas.
As Indian teas are well known for their quality attributes, the focus now is on exporting only quality teas to get higher value rather than chasing volume.
Q: As the industry now looks towards the Twelfth Plan, do we concentrate on quality or focus on increasing production?
A: The strategy of the board during the Twelfth Plan is to maintain a fine balance between demand and supply with more focus on quality production. The growth rate of domestic demand is around 3 per cent, which entails an additional production to the tune of 20 to 25 million kg per annum just for meeting the domestic demand in full. At the same time, it is also proposed to retain a reasonable share in the global market.
Thus, the production strategy is to meet the domestic demand in full and maintain a share of around 15 per cent in the global market. It is proposed to support long-term development measures such as extension planting to increase the area and uprooting the old and senile plantations to improve the productivity in the organised sector and collectivisation of small tea growers to move up in the value chain.
Q: Is the board working hard on getting new export markets? Which are the new markets where India can think of gaining ground?
A: Yes, a focused approach is being adopted on the export front and keeping in view the increasing competition in the world market, five strategically important markets — the US, Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran and Egypt — have been selected for extensive and intensive promotional intervention through execution of five specific activities over five years.
The activities identified are extensive promotion of the India Tea logo, engagement with the local trading community, consumer-oriented promotion, utilisation of social media and focus on export of value-added teas by putting in place infrastructure enablers.
The above countries have been selected based on the parameters of market attractiveness and potentiality and ability to compete by the Indian tea industry. The foremost objective of the entire exercise is to position Indian tea as an over-arching umbrella brand under which five identified promotional activities would be designed, co-ordinated and implemented by reinforcing Brand India, which connects the target traders and consumers.
This is expected to result in prominent brand recall for Indian tea over a short to medium term so as to translate into significant increase in value market shares in the targeted markets for years to come.
Q: What is being done to boost domestic tea consumption? Any marketing efforts in this direction? CTC or orthodox — which tea gets priority now?
A: Domestic consumers prefer CTC teas and in the global market there is a good demand for orthodox teas. Keeping this in view, both types of teas are given due importance in the promotional work of the board.
However, special support by way of cash incentive is being provided to the producers to increase orthodox and green tea production.
Q: Is the board looking at areas which did not get much focus earlier ?
A: The regulatory role of the board, which is one of its primary functions, would be given due importance.
For effective discharge of regulatory functions, a comprehensive national programme of tea regulation has been formulated for implementation during the Twelfth Plan period.
A number of activities are being given priority and taken on a mission mode for implementation at the national level.
Q: Has the board been able to utilise the sanctioned money for the Eleventh Plan. What are you going to do to see that the money received in the Twelfth Plan is utilised to it’s fullest and targets are met?
A: The board received Rs 745 crore during the Twelfth Plan period and the entire fund received from the government had been fully utilised. The question of non-utilisation of the sanctioned money, therefore, does not arise.
Several refinements have been introduced in order to ensure speedy disbursement of the funds to the eligible beneficiaries. Some such refinements include direct transfer of funds to the accounts of the applicants through online transfer rather than sending the cheques by post.
There would be more decentralisation of the powers to the zonal offices so that they handle the entire disbursement process instead of central processing adopted hitherto in head offices in respect of most popular schemes such as Special Purpose Tea Fund and orthodox subsidy scheme.
Q: A vexed problem has been the price-sharing formula, which has never been sol-ved. What is being done on this?
A: The crux of the problem lies in establishing transparency in the transactions between the bought leaf factories and the growers.
Being very small and highly fragmented holdings and being unorganised, the individual growers end up in disposing their green leaf to agents, who, in turn, supply the green leaf to various bought leaf factories.
In the process, the growers do not get to know which factory has received their green leaf and the price received by the factory for the teas. Under this opaque system, the biggest casualty is transparency.
To address this issue in all fairness, the board has alre-ady set up district price monitoring committees under the chairmanship of respective district magistrates in seven major tea growing districts — five in Assam and two in North Bengal. These have been advised to monitor leaf movement and price-sharing mechanism being adopted by the bought leaf factories.
The board has also assigned a study to the Institute of Cost and Works Accountants of India (ICWAI) on the cost factor involved in production of green leaf at the field level and processing and marketing cost for the factories.
Q: Organic tea production is still very low though it takes a long time to get premium pr-ice. What steps are being taken for promotion of organic tea?
A: Organic production entails additional cost not only during production but also in getting it certified and marketed.
In order to fetch a premium, it is necessary for the producers to go in for direct marketing rather than through intermediaries. Conversion from conventional to organic tea also not only leads to immediate crop loss during the conversion period, but also takes nearly 10 to 12 years to regain the original level of production.
It is proposed to provide special incentives towards cost of replanting/replacement of old tea areas when they are converted to organic. For such activities the subsidy would cover to some extent the value of crop lost during the gestation period.
Incentive would also be provided for new planting and certification cost. Preference would also be given to organic tea producers for participation in international fairs and exhibitions.

Northeast India proviides home to Bhutan Glory

Bhutan’s Glory graces India
- Butterfly species spotted at two places in Arunachal

Bhutan’s national butterfly has been found in Arunachal Pradesh.

Bhutanitis ludlowi, commonly known as Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory, was found at two places in Arunachal’s West Kameng district (east of Bhutan) — Eaglenest Widlife Sanctuary and near Sange village — in September.

The butterfly had been spotted near Sange village and at the wildlife sanctuary by Pijush Dutta on September 6 and Sujatha Padmanabhan on September 11 respectively.

“It was sheer luck for me as I had just taken a picture while going through the area. I came back and put it on Facebook when somebody told me that it was Bhutanitis ludlowi. I am delighted,” Dutta, senior landscape co-ordinator of Western Arunachal Landscape Conservation Programme, told The Telegraph.

The discovery is particularly significant because the species was rediscovered in Bhutan only in 2009, after the initial species description in 1942 based on the specimens collected in 1933-1934.

“I found it on September 6 near Sange village after crossing Dirang on way to Sela. I found it on an alnus tree at a height of 2,600 metres,” he said. The other two members who had accompanied Dutta were Jaya Upadhyay and Sanjib Shil.

Padmanabhan, who works with Kalpavriksh, an environment group, told The Telegraph:“We were a little below Lama camp when the sighting happened. When I took the photograph I did not know that it was the Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory. I am not an expert on butterflies, and it was friends who helped me identify it. So in that sense, it was a chance discovery.”

Last year in Bhutan, a picture of a dead butterfly belonging to this species was taken by Sanjay Sondhi, who works for Titli Trust. The species was believed to be endemic to the Trashiyangtse Valley in eastern Bhutan’s Trashi Yangtse.

Sondhi said the significance of the discovery lies in the fact that the butterfly, which was exclusive to Bhutan, has now been discovered in two places of Arunachal.

The Bhutan government in February this year had made Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory its national butterfly because of its uniqueness and rarity, as it is known to thrive only in small pockets of the country.

The ministry of agriculture and forests of Bhutan said: “The name (Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory) of this fabulous and magnificent butterfly not only carries the name of the country but also presents the best image of our country in the international arena. The name also is the true replica of the insect itself since it is one of the most beautiful butterflies in its utmost glory. Woven in best colour combination of black and white strips, the captivating motif on its tail-part of the wings is appealing. Hence, the national butterfly is also an ideal reflection of our beautiful country.”

“It is an addition to the Indian butterfly fauna and a stunning discovery,” said Krushnamegh Kunte, a butterfly biologist.


Lukewarm response by private sector in NE waterways

NE waterways not attractive for private sector

The waterways sector in the Northeast is yet to become a commercial success with private players staying away from the seemingly lucrative and cost-effective trade of transporting goods over the numerous rivers criss-crossing in the region.
Both the Brahmaputra and Barak rivers are yet to be commercialised, though the former was declared a national waterway way back in 1988.
Though much has been said of the economics of inland water transport that is more economical and safer than road and rail transport, the sector has not generated much interest in the private sector.
An inland waterways official says the reasons behind the private players’ disinterest in the sector are many — from lack of industries, scarcity of vessels to problems faced while getting clearance for sailing through Bangladesh.
The working group on improvement and development of transport infrastructure in the Northeast for the National Transport Development Policy Committee says: “As inland water transport has not received its due importance in policy and investments so far (investment-wise things look promising for the future), operators with the required fleet size have not emerged either in the private or the public sector. This is the major bottleneck in the promotion of inland water transport. Brahmaputra and Barak rivers have not been fully commercially exploited for transportation purposes. Inland Waterways Authority of India is not an operator. The public sector, Central Inland Water Transport Corporation Ltd, is sick and has squandered away the advantages of fleet strength. The private sector has not emerged due to various policy reasons. Therefore, the challenge here is to create a policy regime that will promote investment in appropriate fleet of vessels in both public and private sectors.”
It said sufficient infusion of funds must be ensured for the sector to take off and suggested investments to the tune of Rs 10,000 crore up to the Fifteenth Plan.
The Northeast has nearly 1,800km of river routes that can be used by steamers and large country boats and the inland water transport departments of both the state and central governments have been trying to improve the sector in the region.
The Inland Waterways Authority had floated tenders for looking for a private partner to run the coal-handling terminal at Jogighopa, but no one came forward.
Numaligarh Refinery Limited, which had used the river route to transport diesel to Bangladesh, also stopped, dealing a big blow to the sector.
Barak has still not been declared a national waterway though the authorities have recommended it.
The working committee called for partnerships between the public and private sectors to improve the development, management and operation of inland water transport. “Capital investment and expertise for the improvement of the waterway network requires development of a structure for public-private partnerships that attracts the private sector and mitigates their financial risks.”
An inland waterways official conceded that not much headway had been made in attracting the private sector, as the incentives may not be good enough. “Transporters are still not accepting the idea that sending goods over waterways is cost effective and safer though it takes a longer time. There has to be public awareness of the economic benefits of the sector in the region amongst all stakeholders, thereby encouraging a shift to water transport where appropriate. Targets of movement of bulk commodities should be quantified over agreed time periods with appropriate incentives.”
The Centre has now taken interest in giving a fillip to private sector investments, especially in moving food grains and coal on Brahmaputra (National Waterway 2). A committee set up under the Prime Minister’s Office has been assigned the responsibility of identifying multiple business models that could then be bid out through concessions. This will be supplemented by designing model concession agreements and other standardised documents for facilitating a rapid scaling up of investments.
The commerce ministry has said an industrial unit located in the Northeast would be eligible for 90 per cent subsidy it if transported goods over the Brahmaputra from Dhubri to Sadiya and thereafter by road to the manufacturing unit.
All other provisions of the transport subsidy scheme will be applicable for deciding the eligibility of an industrial unit for transport subsidy.


Jams and jellies from rhododendron flowers

After squash with medicinal properties, rhododendron flowers to be made into jam and jelly

 The rhododendron does not merely add a dash of bright scarlet to the near-barren heights of Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh for three months of the year when it is in bloom.
It has also begun to light up people’s lives by becoming a source of livelihood for the rest of the year.
The villagers of Sakpret village in Tawang are set for a sweeter future. Four years after a community rhododendron squash production unit was set up in the village, there are plans to produce jam and jelly as well.
The Tawang rhododendron squash, as it is branded, is made from the extract of the flowers and has an array of medicinal properties.
The unit was set up under the technical guidance of InsPIRE Network for Environment, an NGO, under a project in collaboration with the department of science and technology.
The project — establishment of a community-owned rhododendron arboretum in the community forests of Arunachal Pradesh — has an overall aim to link enterprise development with conservation.
In India, more than 90 species of rhododendron are recorded, of which Arunachal Pradesh has 61. “The project is undergoing an upgrade. We are increasing the product base and planning to produce jams and jellies from the next season. We will take help from Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Dirang, for training. K.M. Jayahari, programme officer, and I have also been to the units of Centre for Technology Development in Uttarakhand and were trained in squash production before starting the work in Tawang,” Monalisa Sen, programme officer, InsPIRE Network for Environment, told The Telegraph.
Efforts are on to provide technological inputs and marketing efforts to improve the product and make it available to more people.
The project began in 2008 and the unit started production in 2009.
Nearly 3,000-3,500 litres of squash is produced every year. The community gets a net profit of around 40,000 per year.
The profit is shared equitably among the families of the village after a third of it is contributed to the village development fund.
Villagers were trained to prepare the squash in extremely hygienic conditions, as well as in the sustainable collection of rhododendron flowers, plucking less than one-third of the flowers from each tree.
The process is managed on eight hectares of community forest land.
A community resolution has declared the forest land as the arboretum and a community organisation — the Sakpret Village Community Food Processing Unit (Administrative Committee) — registered under the Registrar of Societies, Arunachal Pradesh.
“We are looking for declaration of the restored area as a new sacred grove, locally known as nge (in accordance with Buddhist traditions), for long term conservation and sustainable extraction of rhododendron flowers.
“The community has already restored two hectares of degraded area through reforestation using the rhododendron saplings raised in the community nursery. Declaring the area a sacred grove will be a new initiative to revive the traditional conservation values in the region, which will strengthen the overall nature conservation efforts,” the official said.


Tezpur medical hospital hits green hurdle

Medical hub hits eco snag


 An expert panel of the environment and forests ministry has found that construction of Tezpur Medical College and Hospital has begun without obtaining the mandatory environmental clearances, which is in “violation” of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification.

The issue came up for discussion at the 116th meeting of the expert appraisal committee for building construction, coastal regulation zone, infrastructure development and miscellaneous projects that was held from September 19 to 21 at New Delhi.

“The committee after discussion (has) concluded that since construction has already begun, this is a case of violation,” the committee report stated. According to the details of the meeting, an executive engineer of the public works department revealed that construction for the above project had already begun.

Environmental clearance for certain developmental projects has been made mandatory by the ministry of environment and forests through its notification issued on January 27, 1994 under the provisions of Environment (Protection) Act, 1986.

The objective of the Environment Impact Assessment Notification, 2006, was to set procedures of environmental clearance before the establishment of a project of identified nature and size. The suitability of a site for proposed development is one of the primary concerns for environmental clearance of a project.

The committee has advised authorities to leave a 3-metre-wide green belt around the perimeter of the plot and the ways being implemented to save energy and ground/fresh water were also sought.

The committee decided to defer the proposal and requested the proponent to present the case in the next meeting after incorporating the above changes in the layout.

The proposed facility of Tezpur Medical College and Hospital at Bihaguri in Tezpur will consist of a hospital with 500 beds in general wards for all the departments, excluding pay-in cabins, according to the guidelines of the Medical Council of India. The facility will also have a Medical College for 100 students, which is also being designed on the norms prescribed by the MCI.

Sources said the college is expected to become functional by 2013. The site for the medical college at Bihoguri is nearly 18km from Tezpur on National Highway 52, spread over an area of 36.8 acres.

The authorities have provided details on water requirement for the project and its various sources, segregation of biomedical waste and others. The waste will be sent to the common bio-medical waste treatment facility for treatment and disposal and domestic garbage will be collected separately.


Positive hope for Manas transboundary

Joint funds to conserve Manas

Officials of India and Bhutan have called for efforts to set up a funding mechanism to ensure trans-boundary monitoring and co-operation between both the governments to conserve wildlife in Manas.
A report, Tigers Across Borders, released a few days back in Bhutan by its agriculture minister Pema Gyamtsho, hinted at the significance of Trans-boundary Manas Conservation Complex.
The report stated the findings of the first phase of a joint tiger monitoring study undertaken by Bhutan and India in 2010-11.
Partners involved in the survey included the governments of Bhutan and India, WWF, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Aaranyak and The Bhutan Foundation, which identified 14 tigers, five each living in Manas tiger reserve and in the adjoining Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan, and four that are common to both the parks.
The report said the conservation complex — a trans-boundary landscape stretching from Ripu reserve forest in India in the west, to Bhutan’s Khaling wildlife sanctuary in the east, Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park in Bhutan to the north — could be the only landscape in the world with eight species of cats co-existing in the same area. The eight species include tiger, leopard, clouded leopard, marbled cat, golden cat, leopard cat, jungle cat and fishing cat.
A WWF official said the second phase would start in next month using camera traps. “Efforts need to be made to develop a sustainable funding mechanism to ensure trans-boundary monitoring and co-operation between both the governments. In general terms, a strategy that consolidates and then expands the present achievements can be followed to strengthen the trans-boundary conservation initiatives,” the report stated.
It said future plans should evolve a lasting commitment by the two governments of India and Bhutan for wildlife monitoring.
“Future programmes should also concentrate on developing specific field skills and practical training, to report poaching and illegal trade of species. These initial steps will inspire confidence to build partnerships and commitment for a long term collaboration,” the report added.
BTC deputy chief Kampha Borgoyary said the council was responsible for conserving this trans-boundary landscape and worked closely with Bhutan to protect it since its formation.
“The Manas landscape, besides Kaziranga tiger reserve, is the most promising tiger habitat in the whole of the Northeast. With adequate law enforcement, this complex will surely establish itself as a source site for tigers in the region,” the report stated.
The director-general of ministry of agriculture and forests, Bhutan, Karma Dukpa, said the two parks were looking for a common approach to conservation problems.
The report called for identification of areas, frequency and mode of joint patrolling by forest staff at the field level.
It also emphasised that information on illegal activities like poaching and other wildlife crimes should be directly shared at the highest levels of the park management and should be intimated to the frontline staff for necessary action


Tea industry under food act scanner

Tea sector gears up for food act

 A legislation that came into force last year has forced the tea industry to conform to international norms, while keeping its focus on product quality intact.
The law — Food Safety and Standards Act — that came into force from August 5, 2011, dictates that all food establishments and manufacturing units have to either procure licence or get these registered with the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) before August 4 in accordance with their turnover.
To prepare organisations associated with the tea industry to face the upcoming challenges of the act, Tea Board, in association with CII Food and Agriculture Centre of Excellence, organised awareness programmes at Jorhat on June 27 and at Golaghat on June 28. The idea behind the events was to ensure that all the stakeholders understood FSSAI regulations while maintaining quality and food safety standards in their products. About 75 tea estates and bought leaf factories participated in the events.
The event provided an insight was also provided into the critical steps to food safety — a set of guidelines issued by the ministry of health and family welfare through the act for all organisations managing food and beverage operations to ensure implement good hygiene and good manufacturing practices.
The guidelines state that no tea shall contain any additive or processing aid unless it is in accordance with the provisions of the act and regulations made there under, and no tea shall contain any contaminant, naturally occurring toxic substances or toxins or heavy metals in excess of quantities as may be specified by regulations.
On pesticides, it says that no tea shall contain insecticides or pesticide residues, solvent residues, pharmacologically active substances and microbiological counts in excess of limits specified by regulations. No insecticide shall be used directly on tea leaves except fumigants registered and approved under the Insecticides Act, 1968.
On the presence of chemicals, it says that pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, weedicides, microbials should be used in the gardens in accordance with the approved list and be sprayed in accordance with the recommended dosage recommended by Tea Research Association and United Planters’ Association of Southern India.
One of the provisions says flavoured tea shall be sold or offered for sale only by those manufacturers who are registered with Tea Board. Registration number should also be mentioned on the label. It shall be sold only in packed conditions with label declaration as provided in the Regulation 2.4.5 (23) of Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) regulations, 2011.
“Domestic consumers have the right to get tea which is safe and hygienic as consumers demand globally,” Indrani Ghose, principal counsellor, CII Food and Agriculture Centre of Excellence, told The Telegraph.
The Tea Board is taking a scientific approach to sort out the problems of different regulatory issues.
Colour adulteration is strictly prohibited from the consumer health point of view and colouring of tea has gradually become a matter of serious concern these days.
Sources said the treatment of teas with various colouring chemicals comes under the head of adulterants.
There are occasional reports that sub-standard tea leaves are coloured with Bismark brown, potassium blue, turmeric and indigo, to impart colour or gloss to the product.
Tea industry officials say the Tea Board has strongly advised the industry to follow the FSSAI guidelines for not using any colour in tea as violation of the guidelines may attract legal action.
The penal provisions are tough, with penalties ranging between Rs 25,000 and Rs 10 lakh. Moreover, unlicensed food business has been strictly prohibited. A licence can be valid for a period of one to five years.
Bidyananda Barkakoty, chairman, North Eastern Tea Association, said the intention of the FSSA — to bring food safety of our country to international standard — was a welcome step. “There is a possibility that by following the norms laid down in the FSSA, tea may be able to get a better price in the domestic and international markets,” he toldThe Telegraph.
He, however, said it would add to the cost of production.
Dhiraj Kakati, secretary, Assam branch, Indian Tea Association, said the regulations had beneficial aspects and should work well, provided there was no red tape.


Assam forest deptt calls for Karbi Anglong support

Karbi Anglong council’s help sought

A forest department official on an elephant pulls the carcass of a rhino killed by poachers at Bagori range at Kaziranga National Park on Friday. (AP)
 The Assam forest department, which is facing flak over a rise in rhino poaching cases, has initiated steps to get the Karbi Anglong Autonomous District Council “on board” to help save wildlife in Kaziranga National Park.
The CRPF and Assam police also carried out a joint operation in Karbi hills today to track down rhino poachers. Rhinos often stray or cross over during floods from Kaziranga to the foothills of Karbi Anglong, where they fall prey to poachers. Six rhinos of the park have died this week.
“There has to be a joint responsibility in conserving Kaziranga National Park and ensuring safety of rhinos straying over to the foothills of Karbi Anglong district. The issue of cooperation has been taken up with the district council at the highest level, including forest minister Rakibul Hussain. We will provide all support to the forest department of the KAAC to get their cooperation in tackling wildlife issues,” principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) Suresh Chand told The Telegraph.
Chand has been camping in Kaziranga for the past three days and talking to a cross-section of people, including the administration and police, to arrive at a solution. Sources said without KAAC support, any effort in conservation of Kaziranga wildlife would prove futile.
“We are willing to share the best practices we have gathered with them (KAAC) and there can be temporary deployment of their staff in Kaziranga,” Chand said, adding that police officials had agreed to provide arms training to the council’s forest staff to help them face armed poachers and had asked the state forest department to identify trouble spots in Karbi Anglong so that security could be strengthened.
He also said the National Tiger Conservation Authority was comfortable with the idea of having a tiger reserve in Karbi Anglong.
There are four corridors — Panbari, Haldibari, Kanchanjuri and Amguri — in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong belt. During floods, migrating animals use these to cross over to higher ground in Karbi foothills across NH 37. Sources said these corridors were rapidly getting degraded as growing commercial activities were hampering the movement of animals to the hills.
A study by Wildlife Institute of India on “Ecological effects of road through sensitive habitats: Implications for wildlife conservation” states that high traffic volume poses a major barrier and threat to movement of animals between Kaziranga and Karbi hills during floods and effective measures need to be taken to improve the functionality of the corridors.
The WWF has been working since 2005 under its Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong conservation programme to conserve the corridors by involving local residents. It said this was a challenging task as the corridors, lying south of Kaziranga, were densely inhabited and many tourist resorts had sprung up there of late. It said use of land to accommodate growing population and tourism pressure was slowly choking some of the corridors.
As the forest department pondered over ways to check poaching and conserve wildlife in Kaziranga, its officials, along with members of the Centre for Wildlife Rescue and Conservation, managed to dislodge a rhino calf, which refused to budge from under a culvert in the park’s Kohora range. “The rhino calf was at first shot with a stream of water from a fire brigade engine to make it move from the spot but it refused to budge because of the large crowd that had gathered there. The shouting and yelling scared it,” forester Rupak Bhuyan of Kohora range said. It finally came out in the evening and returned to the forest.
However, in Sildubi part of the range, locals killed a wild buffalo when it went on the rampage and allegedly attacked people in the vicinity.
At Gorakati in Bagori range of the park, the carcass of a female rhino, which had died of natural causes, was found floating in the floodwaters with its horn intact. The carcass of an elephant, which had also died a natural death, was found with its tusks intact in the Barbeel camp area in the western division of the range.
Bagori range officer Kushal Deka said a rhino, which had strayed out to Jagadamba area of the range, was chased back to the forest by nearly 50 people of the area.
In the face of growing protests over rhino poaching in Kaziranga, Assam forest minister Rakibul Hussain went on the offensive today, asking All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) why it had not staged protests when rhinos were getting killed in huge numbers between 1986 and 1990 when a “friendly” AGP government was in power in Dispur. About 24 to 48 rhinos are estimated to have been killed during that period. He also asked BJP MP Rajen Gohain to raise the issue in Parliament if he had not done so till now.
Lending its voice to the save wildlife crusade, Aaranyak, an NGO working for wildlife conservation, today said it would hold a daylong sit-in here on Monday to demand the arrest of poachers. It also wants Dispur to ensure accountability within the forest department, which is responsible for the protection of the world heritage site.


Assam tourism in travel sector now

Assam govt opens travel agency

 Assam Tourism Development Corporation Limited has decided to directly reach out to tourists by opening its own travel agency — Red River Tours and Travels — which is already taking bookings.
The travel agency is a subsidiary of Assam Tourism Development Corporation Limited and has its own travel website. It will attempt to take on private players who dominate the tourism sector.
The website will provide unique packages that are being introduced by Assam Tourism, including river cruises, tree-top stays and eco-tourism packages.
“The USP (of the agency) is that it is government owned and we are making every attempt to provide reliable and quality services. We have just started and will continue to add value and choices as we advance,” Anurag Singh, managing director of ATDCL, toldThe Telegraph.
The travel industry in India is growing at a rate of 15 per cent per year and the online travel business is growing at around 35 per cent per year.
“When we have our own infrastructure there is no reason not to have our own travel agency. Why should tourists give commission to other travel agents when we can have our own?” Singh said.
The corporation develops and manages tourist lodges, hotels, restaurants, guesthouses and entertainment projects. It also purchases, acquires, construct and sells infrastructure to promote tourism in the state.
Currently, the travel agency is offering international, domestic and Northeast India packages.“The agency will also act as a nodal facilitation centre for travel solutions for tourist information centres, which are proposed in all the districts of the state. It will cater to the needs of tourists and offer a wide range of facilities, such as airport taxi service, tourist taxis, airline tickets, packages and hotels,” Singh said.
“When you are in the tourism business, you must know what the tourists want and that is why the ATDCL wanted to have its own travel agency,” he added.
Ashish Phookan of Jungle Travels India, a Guwahati-based eco-tourism company welcomed ATDCL’s entry into the travel business.
“It is good for the tourism sector because there will be more tour operators, which will bring in more tourists. It all depends on the quality of services rendered, if that is good, it will be a good development,” he said.
In 2011, 43.39 lakh domestic tourists and 16,000 foreign tourists visited Assam. During 2006 to 2010, the number of domestic tourists visiting the state has risen by 5.51 per cent. “We have been getting good number of enquiries, both domestic and from overseas. Compared to other destinations, Assam is still an emerging tourism destination,” Phookan said.


Assam no to Bengal demand for hogs

Assam turns down hog demand from Bengal

The Assam forest department has turned down a request from Bengal for pygmy hogs. Last year, it had rejected a similar request for rhinos.
The West Bengal forest department had decided to reintroduce pygmy hogs in the grasslands of the Gorumara National Park in north Bengal after the Zoological Survey of India’s (ZSI) recommendation on its feasibility.
The Bengal forest department had requested for four males and eight females. The pygmy hog (Porcula salvania) is the world’s rarest wild hog and the most endangered.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in fact, has categorised the pygmy hog as “critically endangered” and is also listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.
“We do not have adequate number of hogs till 2014 to give Bengal,” Assam chief wildlife warden Suresh Chand told The Telegraph. Chand said this was based on the information provided by the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP), a collaborative project of Durrell with IUCN/SSC Pigs Peccaries and Hippos Specialist Group, Assam forest department and ministry of environment and forests.
“They (PHCP) had told us that it has to be done under a joint collaborative programme between Assam and West Bengal involving all stakeholders,” Chand said.
Gautam Narayan, the programme project director, said a lot of studies, including habitat, have to be done before it can be released in another place. “We have already released 60 hogs at Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary and Orang National Park,” he said.
Narayan said the programme began in 1996 when six pygmy hogs were captured from Manas National Park and now their number is 60, which is a good increase from the founder population captured from the wild.
Narayan said they have got permission from the forest department to capture a few hogs from Manas as the condition is now improving. The 2011 mission report of the Unesco and World Heritage Convention on Manas said the population estimates vary from 200-300 to 1,000, but are likely at the lower end of that range.
Last year, Bengal had requested for 20 female rhinos from Assam but that was also turned down.
The main threats to survival of pygmy hog are loss and degradation of habitat because of human settlements, agricultural encroachments, dry-season burning, livestock grazing, commercial forestry and flood control schemes.
The pygmy hog wild population is now only restricted to Manas in the world.


India calls for detailed study on climate change impact on tea

Stress on climate change impact on tea gardens

The Centre has submitted before the Intergovernmental Group on Tea on the need to take up comprehensive studies to find out the impact of climate change on tea plantations.
India, which headed the working group on climate change, submitted the report prepared by a scientist from Tocklai at an intersessional meeting of the Intergovernmental Group on Tea on September 17 to 18 in Washington DC.
The Intergovernmental Group on Tea under Food and Agriculture Organisation represents a forum for intergovernmental consultation and exchange on trends in production, consumption, trade and prices of tea, including regular appraisal of the global market situation and short-term outlook.
The Centre in the report said the idea was to develop decision-support framework or toolkit for contingency crop planning for efficient management of tea plantations and make them climate resilient.
To develop this framework crop details, soil information, waterbodies and other crops nearby agronomic information (plant growth, physiological parameters), ground weather observation, location specific forecast data (even hourly) and historical data (appropriate short/long) would have to taken into consideration.
“Such data and details will be from surface as well as satellite. Once the prototype framework/toolkit is available, crop planning based on weather advisories can be made specific to a region. This approach will make it easy to adapt to the changing weather conditions and also will be able to cope with the extreme events, because this can be used as an early warning system,” the report that the Centre submitted said.
The Centre said the outcome of global studies on climate change was at continental levels, while the details at regional and sub-regional levels, which strongly influence the total economics, were inadequate.
“Until recently, we are not very clear about the contribution of climate change on tea production and quality in different regions. Yield depends on various other parameters like soil, water, nutrient and pest/disease and not just climate/weather. Using appropriate analysis, it has to be deciphered that how much contribution climate change has on production and quality, through variations in these parameters using historical data,” it said.
The report also said there should be analysis of database of local weather, soil, disease/pest incidence and tea yield in tea growing regions of Assam.
Another tool is the weather forecast, which allows taking at least take immediate management decisions at farm level.
“We intend to use appropriate observation and prediction system, which takes data from our databases directly and makes predictions at high resolution. We intend to use Nasa’s Terrestrial Observation and Prediction System (TOPS) for the purpose,” the report said.
Concerned over the challenges to the tea industry on account of climate change, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Commerce in its report on tea said there was an urgent need to develop a strategy aimed at improvement and sustenance of tea productivity as well as its quality and direct research to find solutions to problems like prolonged drought arising because of climate change.
The committee recommended to the commerce department to take steps in this direction and collaborate with International Tea Research Institutes and ICAR on the matter.
The commerce department informed the committee of a research proposal on climate change on tea plantation under the Twelfth Plan.
The committee said in its report that the government should give more thrust to the development of high yielding planting materials that can withstand the biotic and abiotic stresses under the changing climatic scenario.


Logo for muga silk on anvil now

Muga silk products to get own logo

Five years after it got the geographical indications tag, muga is all set to have its own logo.
A senior official of Assam Science Technology and Environment Council, the registered proprietor of the geographical indications tag for muga, said the council had sent the logo to the geographical indications registry office in Chennai for clearance.
The ASTEC patent information centre developed the logo with legal support from the Delhi-based Corporate Law Group. Dispur, too, has cleared it.
“The geographical indications office will have a look at the logo and then ascertain if there is any opposition from anybody. It will take some time,” the official said. The logo is required under the geographical indications act.
Muga, the golden-yellow silk, is obtained from the semi-domesticated multivoltine silkworm, Antheraea assamensis, and is found in the Brahmaputra valley only. It possesses the highest tensile strength among all natural textile fibres and is comfortable to wear in both summer and winter. The golden texture and shine also increases with every wash.
The geographical indications for muga includes raw silk yarns and threads for textiles, dress materials, headgear, footwear, ties, motifs, fashion wear, quilts, furnishings and upholstery, mekhela sador and shawls. Assam got the tag in 2007.
Till date, only two persons have applied to the geographical indications office to become registered users of muga though at the time when the tag was granted, 27,878 people were involved in work relating to the golden fibre. The official said the application of one of the two had reached an advanced stage of processing.
In fact, the geographical indications act mandates that the tag would be revoked if a good number of people were not registered as users. The users also have to be registered under a legal body like an association or a self-help group. Authorised users have exclusive rights to protect the goods, monopolise markets and control prices of items.
“Once the users register, the logo will then be inscribed on all muga products made by them,” the official said.
To keep a check on the quality of products, the Institute of Advanced Study in Science and Technology here has agreed to conduct tests at its seri-biotech laboratory.
The official said even the sericulture department was contemplating about becoming a registered muga user.
Of the total 2,019 metric tonnes of silk produced in Assam in 2011-12, 115 metric tonnes was muga.
Apart from muga, Assam orthodox tea and Nagaland’s Naga mircha have also got geographical indications tags.
Manipur, too, has applied for the tag for its handloom fabrics — shaphee lanphee,wangkhei phee and moirang pheejin.
The North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation Ltd (Neramac) has filed applications for Naga tree tomato, Arunachal orange, Sikkim large cardamom and Mizo chilli.


Fabindia in expansion mode in NE

Fabindia eyes growth in region

Spurred by good demand and quality, Fabindia is now on expansion mode in the Northeast.
The company, which started with a store in Guwahati at the behest of and in collaboration with JJ Marketing owned by Jahnabi Phookan and Jesmina Zeilang, has added one more store in Dibrugarh and is looking to expand further, given the good response.
“The encouraging response in Guwahati prompted the company to expand further into Dibrugarh. We expe-ct a continuous and sustained growth in keeping with the economy of the state,” Pallabi Basu, regional manager, Fab-india, told The Telegraph.
In fact, in response to the growing demand, the company has come forward with a larger inventory and a professional team to manage the store, while JJ Marketing continues as its agent.
The second store, started last month in a heritage bungalow in Dibrugarh, has also been well received.
Sources said the company was already thinking of opening stores in other places but this would take some time. “A lot of issues like logistics have to be studied and once that is through there is no problem,” a source said.
Both outlets in Assam are franchisee owned.
Fabindia is the country’s largest private platform for products made using traditional techniques, skills and hand-based processes. It links over 80,000 craft-based rural producers to modern urban markets, creating a base for skilled, sustainable rural employment and preserving India’s traditional handicrafts in the process.
It believes in an inclusive economy and sources extensively from indigenous craftsmen and procures significantly from artisans in the Northeast. One of the company’s biggest strengths has been customer loyalty, which has been achieved through a combination of factors, including value for money products, good quality and a distinct look.
The official said there was tremendous awareness for handcrafted and handloom products in the Northeast, which already has a rich handloom heritage. “So far, the business has been viable here and are eliciting a good response here.”
The best part is that the artisans get work from Fabindia throughout the year, which on one hand has prevented them from looking for other sources of income and on the other, has guaranteed Fabindia a po-ol of talent that is unrivalled.
The company has also tried to initiate community outreach programmes in these areas by building schools and providing quality education.
The official said the company had worked with clusters and design developers in Assam and Nagaland to add variety to its products.
Sources said though handicrafts of this region were of good quality, utilitarian in nature and diverse in range, they have not gained access to the markets in other Indian or overseas markets. The crafts of this region also suffer because of logistics — difficult terrain and prohibitive cost of transportation of the predominantly voluminous products.
In fact, the Centre is toying with the idea of having a dedicated scheme for handicrafts in the region. It will also try to provide adequate infrastructure support for improved quality and productivity and to give entrepreneurs and artisans access to a larger market at both domestic and international level.
The working group constituted by Planning Commission for the handicrafts sector during the Twelfth Plan has recommended setting up of Northeast handicrafts and handmade textiles clusters as centres for excellence with well-integrated forward and backward linkages.
According to the projections made by the working group, handicrafts exports from Northeast by the end of Twelfth Plan should earn Rs 1,500 crore while domestic earning should be Rs 2,500 crore.


Online shopping in NE on overdrive

Online shopping gains popularity

From selling bar coasters to buying gadgets and lifestyle products, the young and old across the Northeast are fast becoming voracious online shoppers.
eBay India, the country’s most popular online shopping platform with over 4 million registered users from 3,311 Indian cities and over two million Facebook fans, has come up with some interesting facts about the Northeast.
“Northeastern states, in particular, have grown tremendously in the past 12 to 18 months. Gadgets and lifestyle products have been the most popular categories followed by media and collectibles,” Deepa Thomas, head, partnerships, eBay India told The Telegraph.
In the online shopping portal’s latest report — India Battle of the Gadgets — Guwahati and Aizawl have interestingly surfaced among the top 20 cities, with high demand for tablets, compact digital cameras and long zoom digital cameras. The report is based on an analysis of all gadget transactions on eBay India from April 1 to June 30, 2012.
Every minute, eight products are bought on eBay India.
Increased penetration of the Internet driven by higher disposable incomes, availability of cheaper access devices and the advent of 3G have led to rapid adoption of e-commerce in all corners of the country.
“In addition, people in non-metro cities are able to gain access to products not available in their cities,” Thomas said.
The eBay India Census, 2011, found Assam taking the lead in the Northeast with 49 per cent of their purchases being in the gadgets category followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Nagaland and Sikkim.
Suraj Sharma, CEO of, an online store dedicated towards bringing the world’s finest fashion labels to India, said, “We have discovered that the Northeast is one of the most fashion-conscious regions of the country. Seven per cent of the traffic on the online store comes from the Northeast, with most of the orders coming from Assam and Meghalaya.”
“We have also observed that the average basket size in the Northeast is more than that in the metropolitan cities. This means that the Northeast people shop for more products at once than those who shop from Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore,” Sharma said.
Though the portal offers both women’s wear and menswear, the ratio of female shoppers to maleshoppers in the Northeast is 7:3. “However, most of the shoppers (both male and female) purchase mainly from the various international brands we have to offer, such as La Redoute, House of Dereon, Fever London, et al,” Sharma said.
He said one of the most interesting trends among Northeast shoppers is that 70 per cent of them opt for prepaid orders. “Most of the orders are paid in advance via debit/credit cards and Netbanking. While cash on delivery is a trend elsewhere, only 30 per cent of the Northeast shoppers opt for the same.”
For Flipkart, Northeast has always been a good market. “The demand for categories like books, media and games is very high,” a senior official of the online shopping portal said.
Even direct-selling companies are taking the online route to augment their sales.
For Amway India, which accounts for nearly 40 per cent of the Rs 5,229 crore direct-selling market in India, online sales have assumed significance among the company’s distributors over the past three years and contribute nearly 20 per cent of overall sales of the company in India.
“While we are expanding our reach through brick and mortar presence, we are also encouraging distributors to use our website to buy products online,” Amway India managing director and CEO William S. Pinckney said.
Domestic firm Modicare’s focus on online sales began from 2011. “While the platform has been there for a decade now the real focus on online sales started last year,” Manisha Amol, vice-president (marketing), Modicare Ltd, told The Telegraph.
The Northeast market is crucial for Modicare, which is eyeing five per cent revenue from online sales by the end of this fiscal.
Chavi Hemanth, secretary general of the Indian Direct Sellers Association (IDSA), said, “The trend of companies leveraging the online platform to augment sales has grown recently. Companies such as Amway, Oriflame and Avon have taken the online route.


Noodles sector in Notheast India on upswing

Demand drives noodles sector in Northeast India

The Choudhary Group factory at Chaygaon in Assam’s Kamrup district
The noodles business in the Northeast is in a high growth mode with companies expanding operations and dishing out newer varieties of the popular processed cereal product.
In fact, Nepal-based Chaudhary Group, famous for its Wai Wai brand and which is the number two in the country, is adding one more plant in Assam, even as younger players are concentrating on quality. The company is number one in the Northeast, having a 65 per cent share in the market.
“It will be a six-million-packs-per-day factory and come up at Silchar,” G.P. Sah, chief executive officer of the company, told The Telegraph. It currently has a factory at Chaygaon in Kamrup district, which produces nine lakh packs per day.
The company, which has a 16 per cent market share in the over Rs 1,300-crore noodles market in the country, has three factories with a combined capacity of 18 lakh packs per day.
Wai Wai has been in the Northeast market from the early 1990s. Earlier, it was exported from Nepal. “Its production in India started in Sikkim in 2006 and the production base was further expanded to Assam in 2009 and to Rudrapur (Uttarakhand) in 2011. This helped the brand to become closer to its customers,” Sah said.
Noodles are value-added items made from flour. Among processed cereal products in India, noodles have a share of about 45 per cent in terms of output and constitute the largest segment in this sector.
Sah said the noodles market was growing by 20 per cent annually in India and the Northeast is no different. Wai Wai has a more established consumer base in the Northeast, Sikkim, Bengal and North India, compared other parts of the country.
“We are the leading players in the Northeast in the noodles category. People of the region are looking for convenience and flavours in food products. We aspire to go with the changing trend and serve our consumers with world-class noodles. As a company, we have 28 years of experience in noodles production and distribution and we offer a range of noodles, which no one offers in the country. In the next five years, our sales will grow three times and we will employ more than 2,000 people in Assam. At present, our employee strength is more than 600,” he said.
The company has exported noodles from Assam and currently offers ready-to-eat noodles, snack noodles and noodle bhujia, among others. “We are going to introduce some new flavours soon,” he said.
The operations in the Northeast are important for the company, as it earns 50 per cent of its revenue here.
On the entry of newer players in the market, Sah admitted the competition was going to get tougher in the times to come. Apart from established brands such as Nestle’s Maggi, Nissin Foods’ Top Ramen, GlaxoSmithKline’s Foodles, a number of new players, including local firms, have forayed into the Northeast. “However, we are technologically ahead of others and have vast experience of managing this business even in an intensely competitive scenario. As on today, the range of noodles we offer is unmatched in the country.”
On the other hand, AA Nutritions, a local company, said the future of the business lay in quality, and if manufacturers stuck to best quality practices, then consumption was bound to increase.
A company official said it had been instrumental in introducing the first ready to eat brown noodles in the region. “Though our capacity is very small in comparison to the Chaudhary Group, we have been able to create a niche segment for our Yummy ready to eat noodles because of our market positioning and good quality. In the food business, all strategies fail in front of taste and quality. Yummy noodles assure the best quality to consumers and in the long run, it will yield good results for us,” the official said.
He said along with the known reasons for growth of the fast convenient food segment, the major reason for popularity of noodles in hilly regions of the Northeast was the lack of fuel such as wood or coal in remote areas because of wet climate. “Our noodles are already cooked and can be eaten directly from the packet. Hence, it does not need any fuel to cook.”