A dam bigger than Kurichu in Bhutan could endanger Manas, which had shed its in-danger tag only a year ago.
The World Heritage Committee has asked the Bhutan government to submit a copy of the environmental impact assessment report for the proposed Mangdechhu hydroelectric project, including the impact on the park with particular focus on measures to avoid the sudden release of excess water.
The committee has also asked for information on the potential cumulative impacts in relation to the existing Kurichu dam for review prior to making a decision on whether to approve the project.
Sources said the committee had written to the Bhutan government on May 18 asking for more information and the issue would be discussed in the 36th meeting of the committee at St Petersburg in Russia from June 24 to July 6.
“The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has received reports that two hydro-electric projects in Bhutan — the existing 60MW Kurichu and the proposed 720MW Mangdechhu — are likely to affect the forests and waterbodies of the park in a way which would reduce the ecosystems’ ability to support wildlife. Both the Kurichu and Mangdechhu rivers contribute to the flow of the Manas-Beki river system, which considerably sustains the park. It is noted that the Kurichu dam has already affected the forests and wildlife of the park, when in 2004 it released excess water that caused an unprecedented flood in the Manas-Beki river system, washing away parts of the property and killing a large number of wild animals,” the report said.
“The release of water from the Kurichu dam on several occasions in the last six years has caused floods in the wider Manas biosphere reserve, of which the park forms an integral part, which could potentially affect areas proposed for future inclusion in the park. The reports received by the IUCN suggest that no environmental impact assessment has yet been undertaken for the proposed Mangdechhu project,” it added.
The report also said the existing Kurichu dam demonstrated the potential impacts of the proposed Mangdechu dam on the park. “Considering that the proposed Mangdechhu dam is 12 times bigger than the Kurichu dam, it is likely that the impact of the proposed project would be several times more,” it said.
“There is hardly any information coming from Bhutan on the dams being built there and the impact downstream in Assam. I hope now that we could have more information after this development,” the programme head of water, climate and hazard programme of Aaranyak, Partha Das, told The Telegraph.
Although significant progress has been achieved in the implementation of the recommendations made by the committee in its 35th session (Unesco 2011), the committee said there was still delay in establishing a direct flow of funds from the Centre to the Manas tiger conservation fund.
On the draft tourism management plan of Manas, it said the report did not include clear guidelines in relation to the maximum number of tourists allowed to enter the park at any given time.
Wamul to stop milk imports from 2013
Wamul’s mantra of helping others to help themselves has worked wonders — the co-operative behind the Purabi brand, which is a household name in Assam, will stop bringing milk from outside from next year because it has plenty at home.
“Our local procurement is increasing and we no longer need to bring milk from outside,” M. Thakur, managing director of West Assam Milk Producers’ Co-operative Union Ltd, told The Telegraph. At present, the cooperative procures around 10,000 litres of milk per day from Bihar and West Bengal, depending on the demand.
The success story has trudged a rough road. Wamul, which came into existence in 1976 as a Union of Milk Producers’ Co-operatives of Nagaon, Morigaon, Goalpara, Nalbari and Kamrup districts of Assam, has had a tough time since inception. At times, the employees were even compelled to sacrifice their wages and salaries for months.
When the cooperative started its operations as Wamul in 1981-82, its problems were immense — the infrastructure was either largely defunct or grossly underutilised, the functional plants were operating at a very low level of their installed capacity, it had a limited product profile, there were huge operational losses, and capital and labour productivity was low. The poor performance was largely attributed to the establishment of milk processing units without appropriate assessment of demand, supply and economic viability.
However, the situation has changed completely in the past few years and the cooperative is back on the rails, Thakur said.
A series of steps have been taken to restore the co-operative’s health, primary among them being a five-year tripartite agreement between the state government, the National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) and Wamul in 2008. Both the state government and the board agreed to run Wamul in accordance with sound business principles and on commercial lines.
The idea was to improve the procurement, processing, manufacturing and marketing of milk for better capacity utilisation of the infrastructure created. For better procurement, Wamul established direct link with milk producers — earlier it used to procure milk from societies — and set up milk producers’ institutions. It offered better prices to the producers and opened bank accounts for them so that they could get payments on time, leading to greater trust. Thakur said the local procurement of milk was 18,000 litres a day now compared to 300 litres a day in 2008.
Wamul’s milk plants process 40,000 litres per day and the amount is expected to touch 50,000 litres by March next year.
“Production is of no use if there is no market. We created market for the producers who are now willing to provide milk to us. Our milk now reaches places like Jorhat and Sivasagar and we still get queries from them,” he added. Wamul also supplies milk to army units in Basistha and Missamari.
He said they also linked salary to performance to encourage employees to become more productive.
Thakur said the people were the same but they had changed the situation in their favour. “They did not have any exposure earlier. We trained them and even sent them to Anand. The result is there for everyone to see.”
Wamul has now started trial runs for lassi. It has also set up bulk milk coolers in a number of places to increase the shelf life of milk and establish a systematic way of milk procurement.
The cooperative is now focusing on Nagaon and Morigaon districts for which it has got a Rs 6 crore assistance from the Centre. It plans to set up bulk milk coolers, a packaging unit and cold storages in the districts.
“One more year is left for the MoU to expire and after that it will be up to the government whether it wants the NDDB to stay or not. We have done our best to run it commercially,” Thakur, who had been sent on deputation to Wamul from the NDDB, said.
The state milk sector has come a long way but a lot still needs to be done. Despite having a sizeable number of cattle (approximately 85 lakh), the per capita availability of milk is only 87ml per head per day in the state against the 210 ml/head/day recommended by World Health Organisation. This is because the local cattle are of nondescript type and the productivity is, on an average, 180 litres per cow. In contrast, the average yield of the indigenous breed of cattle in the country varies from 1,500 litres to 3,000 litres.
N-E spice trade yet to make impact
Every time Naimuddin from Karimganj thinks of exporting dry ginger to Bangladesh, he ends up sending ginger flakes instead.
The reason: There are no drying facilities in the Northeast for spices, which ultimately leads to traders not getting value for their produce.
“I have exported 500-600 metric tonnes of ginger flakes to Bangladesh. I wanted to export dry ginger but could not do so as there are no drying facilities here which is a big impediment,” Naimuddin told The Telegraph.
Drying is important for sustaining ginger quality and also to increase its shelf life.
Naimuddin is a registered exporter from the Northeast under the Spices Board who has been exporting ginger for the last several years now.
For Naimuddin and others who stay in Karimganj, exporting to Bangladesh is the best option as the transportation costs are less.
In fact, the spice sector in the region could have really worked wonders had it not been for the lack of infrastructure and other support. There are 46 exporters in the region, barring a handful who do not export.
Naimuddin said it was true that many exporters did not export because of problems like not getting a market and high transportation costs.
In fact, the value of spices export to Bangladesh and Myanmar from the Northeast is only Rs 6.4 crore. Export takes place mainly through Moreh, Karimganj, Dawki and the figures are the ones provided by land customs stations.
The main spices grown commercially in the region are ginger, turmeric (lakadong), black pepper (bird’s eye chilli) and large cardamom. Native to the hills of Meghalaya, thelakadong variety is characterised by its high curcumin content and is extensively used in the extraction of curcumin and manufacture of turmeric oleoresin. Bird’s eye chillies grown in Mizoram are characterised by their extremely small size when mature (2-3cm and very high pungency).
Bhut jolokia (chilli) has become a big hit and the Assam government is taking steps to start largescale cultivation.
Brahma said of late, exporters were coming from north and south India to the Northeast to purchase spices, mainly ginger and lakadong turmeric. “There is a huge demand for spices like ginger which are not available locally to these traders and hence they come to the Northeast. As far as I know, they are buying in bulk,” he added. Bird’s eye chilli is also in great demand.
Though the official figures for ginger production is 43,089 metric tonnes, there is no value addition, given that products like ginger paste and others could have been made.
Spices Board, under the ministry of commerce, is the flagship organisation for the development and worldwide promotion of Indian spices. The board is an international link between Indian exporters and the importers abroad. The board has been spearheading activities for excellence of Indian spices involving every segment of the industry.
A source said the Northeast did not get much help from the board, which, in turn, is affecting its potential.
The involvement of middlemen is another big hindrance in the sector as there are innumerable tiers of middlemen/brokers between the farm and the consumer. “The middleman is there as there is no government agency to take care of the farmers and the latter have to take help from brokers to sell their produce,” a source said.
Officials said the rate of subsidy needed to be revised and increased, the present number of Spices Board offices in the region should be increased and suitable slicing, boiling and polishing devices for spices should be identified for the region and included under the board’s assistance programmes.
Another source said exposure training should be taken up for providing information on marketing to the spice traders as well as farmers for better linkage and marketing.
Assam tea seems to be on a record-breaking spree in quick succession, setting a record price at Rs 303 per kg.
A line of Halmari CTC tea, comprising 12 bags weighing 331kg, fetched Rs 303 per kg at sale number 23 at Gauhati Tea Auction Centre (GTAC) yesterday.
J. Thomas and Company Private Ltd sold the tea and it was bought by T.R. Somani and Sons, who operate from Gujarat. The grade was broken orange pekoe (BOP).
The new record price is a rupee more than Rs 302 per kg fetched by Mahaluxmi tea garden early this year at GTAC. The garden fetched Rs 301 per kg earlier.
“The best price proves that good teas sells at a premium at the GTAC,” secretary Jayanta Kakati told The Telegraph.
Halmari garden in Dibrugarh district belongs to Calcutta-based Amarawati Tea Company Ltd, which also owns the Duliabam Tea Estate.
Teas produced by Halmari have been fetching high prices over the last many years and it stands tall as one of the top ranking gardens of Assam.
“This is a top notch garden and has been producing quality teas for many years now. The best part of it is that it supports auctions,” a spokesman for J. Thomas and Company Private Ltd said.
Attributes like a rich malty flavour, fuller body, bright colour, briskness and sweet aroma has made Assam tea a hot favourite among tea enthusiasts all over the world.
The company, in a letter to the GTAC secretary, said, “Halmari is a top quality mark and has been consistently been number one estate in the Calcutta and Guwahati auctions in terms of price realisation for many years. It is also a matter of pride for Guwahati auctions.”
Second flush teas have just started arriving at the auction centre and the prices seemed to be good.
The average price at sale number 23, which concluded yesterday, was Rs 161.93.
General manager of Halmari and Duliabam gardens Rajesh Misra said the credit goes to the management and to the workers.
“The company is totally focussed on quality,” he said.
He said the quality of orthodox teas of the garden is also very good.
The company's website says Halmari is retailed at Harrods, London and its orthodox and silver tips are sold by Queen Camellia and Langgasstee, the two finest tea boutiques in Switzerland. This apart, Halmari tea is also listed by some finest hotel chains in the world on their menu.
Another official said the best prices for Assam CTC can go upto as much as Rs 350 a kg but it will all depend on demand and supply.