Gibbons on power tightrope- Arunachal okays transmission line through crucial habitat
A proposed high tension transmission line is posing a threat to the habitat of the eastern hoolock gibbon, a “vulnerable” species according to the IUCN Red List, in Arunachal Pradesh, with environment activists asking the government to keep the animals in mind while clearing development projects.
Arunachal Pradesh power minister Tanga Byaling, however, told The Telegraph: “They won’t be affected if the line passes through.”
The project in question is a Power Grid Corporation transmission line that will cut through the habitat of the primarily arboreal (tree-dwelling) species found in Arunachal Pradesh’s Lohit, Dibang Valley and Changlang districts and Sadiya sub-division of Assam’s Tinsukia district.
The corporation has sought approval for diversion of 108.937 hectares in favour of Power Grid Corporation of India Limited for laying a single circuit 132KV transmission line from Roing to Tezu in Lower Dibang Valley and Lohit districts of Arunachal Pradesh.
The proposal envisages establishment of a power transmission network system associated with the gas-based power projects, being implemented by the ONGC and Tripura Power Company Limited for uninterrupted distribution of power among the constituent states of the Northeast. The proposed line will pass through three reserve forests.
The forest advisory committee under the ministry of environment and forests is scheduled to discuss the project in New Delhi tomorrow.
The estimated population of the eastern hoolock gibbon in the forest stretch between Roing and Tezu is around 1,000 — around 30 per cent of the state’s total population of 3,500.
Two species of hoolock gibbons, the western hoolock gibbon (Hoolock hoolock) and the eastern hoolock gibbon (Hoolock leuconedyes) are found in the Northeast. With long and slender arms, gibbons are swift — they can swing from tree to tree at speeds up to 55km per hour, covering up to 6 metres in just one swing.
Of the two, the western hoolock is listed as endangered in the IUCN Red List, while the eastern hoolock is listed as vulnerable.
Dilip Chetry, programme head, primate research and conservation initiative of Aaranyak — a biodiversity conservation society of the Northeast — said, “There are scientific papers stating that the said area is a habitat of the eastern hoolock gibbon. Any development project in that area should be taken up keeping the hoolock gibbon in mind.”
Sources said habitat fragmentation and hunting were the major threats to gibbons in the country and added to this situation was the lack of basic information and poor conservation awareness about the species among different sections of people, including the frontline forest department staff.
“The project, if it gets cleared, will fragment the habitat of eastern hoolock gibbon, which will be dangerous,” said a senior official of the Wildlife Trust of India, which is working on gibbon conservation at Dello, 20km from Roing.
According to sources, the state government has forwarded the proposal without any specific recommendations, stating that the assessment officer had not given any adverse comment on the matter. It said the project would not affect any stream, sea, waterbody or forest eco-system and the bio-diversity of the area.
The government said no unique eco-system was reported to exist on the land being diverted in both Lohit and Namsai forest divisions.
Interestingly, even the state forest department stated in its site inspection report that the area proposed for the transmission line was not significantly important from a wildlife point of view.
Justifying the proposal, the state government said the transmission line would serve as a stable and reliable source of power for the remote districts of Arunachal Pradesh, which have a sizable population. These areas are currently facing power scarcity, which is coming in the way of development and progress.
Manas haven for muga
The muga silkworms that give Assam its famous golden thread now have a sanctuary on the fringes of Manas National Park.
A senior official of Central Silk Board said the move aimed at conserving the germplasm of muga silkworm as its habitats were fast eroding because of rapid deforestation for agriculture and human habitation.
The initiative is a collaboration of Central Silk Board and the department of sericulture, Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). Altogether 100 acres of land have been demarcated in the Rangijora area of Kuklung forest range in Chirang district in Manas National Park.
The sanctuary was inaugurated on June 5 in the presence of Deven Boro, executive member, department of sericulture, BTC, Prafulla Kumar Hazowary, secretary, BTC, Kokrajhar, and Sarat Deori, joint secretary, Central Silk Board, ministry of textiles, among others.
“Being a single species silkworm, rearing of the stock in the same place for more than three to four generations shows an inherent tendency of inbreeding depression as indicated by the loss of its tolerance capacity to environmental variations. The germplasm is also fast depleting due to unabated deforestation and human intervention. To check further erosion of the valuable genetic resource of muga silkworm, there is an urgent need for conservation of muga in its wild habitat and to establish a sanctuary to conserve this valuable resource in its natural habitat,” Deori toldThe Telegraph here.
Another problem is that muga silkworm had always been grown outdoors and is prone to die in large numbers because of factors like global warming, climate fluctuations and pollution besides predators and diseases.
Muga, the golden yellow silk, is obtained from semi-domesticated silkworm, Antheraea assamensis. Earlier, several attempts were made by the line departments to conserve muga silkworms in the wild by demarcating a specific reserve forest as wildlife sanctuary. The attempts, however, failed because of administrative reasons.
The sanctuary has been set up in the BTC area, as it is an important seed pocket of muga and contributes about 30 per cent to the state’s silk output. Weaving is an integral part of Bodo culture and many families rear their own silkworms, the cocoons of which are spun into silk. Bodo girls learn to weave from a young age and no Bodo courtyard is complete without a loom.
“The present local (semi-domestic) stock is less tolerant to environmental factors causing diseases. For revitalisation of the existing stock, evolution of a variety or developing a vigorous breed is required for which exploitation of the genetic resource in the wild is required,” a scientist at Central Silk Board said.
Of the total Assam silk production of 2,019 metric tonnes in 2011-12, the production of muga was 115 metric tonnes. Muga provides self-employment to more than 44,000 families, including ancillary units, in the state. “It is an excellent initiative for conservation of muga germplasm and the area is suitable,” the divisional forest officer of Chirang, Suvasish Das, said.