Amchang Wildlife Sanctuary: choked by squatters, neglect,

GUWAHATI, Assam – Encroachment and illegal logging have jeopardised long-term survival prospects of the Amchang wildlife sanctuary that shelters wide-ranging wildlife, besides providing some much-needed green cover for the city.

A comparison of satellite imagery taken in 2004 when Amchang was declared a wildlife sanctuary and that of eight years later lays bare how growing encroachment has eroded a substantial portion of the 78.64-sq km sanctuary since it was upgraded to a protected area.

In 2004,  there were only five small villages, i.e., Ekrabari, Sowali Lukuwa Sal, Shyam Pathar, Hatisila and Kilinghop inside Amchang before it was declared a sanctuary. In 2013, several thickly-populated settlements – Garobasti, Hastinapur, Kangkan Nagar, Pragati Nagar, Malagog, etc., – have cropped up, undermining its status as a sanctuary.

Political patronage behind the encroachment has complicated matters further, with the consequence that the few eviction drives have had little impact on the illegal squatters. As per the Forest Department’s data, some one-tenth area of Amchang is under encroachment – a gross understatement as established by satellite imagery.

A forest official, while acknowledging the problem of encroachment, claimed that some success had been made of late in evicting encroachers. “Encroachment is there inside Amchang, even though some of the encroachers had been evicted recently. We are also exploring options of having them relocated outside the sanctuary,” he added.

Moloy Baruah of Early Birds which had been at the forefront of the movement to declare Amchang as a sanctuary, rued the apathy of the State Government and said that unless checked immediately, little would remain of the vibrant wilderness located at a stone’s throw from the State capital.

“Upgrading Amchang to a sanctuary has proved to be rather ironical, as illegal settlements have only increased during the subsequent years. Encroachment, poaching and illegal tree-felling have been unabated in the sanctuary with the forest authorities looking the other way,” Baruah said.

Amchang comprises three reserve forests — Amchang, South Amchang and Khanapara. Before declaring it a protected area, no initiative was taken to evict encroachers from the Khanapara reserve forest. With the inclusion of the Khanapara reserve forest in the sanctuary, the encroachers also got accommodated inside the protected area even though the law strictly prohibits any human settlement inside protected areas.

“Upgrading it to a sanctuary without evicting the encroachers was a wrong move, which has aggravated the present situation,” the forest official said, adding that a strong political will was necessary to contain the menace.

As per official data, 860 hectares, mostly of the Khanapara reserve forest, are under encroachment. “This was 500 hectare in 2002 when eviction drives in and around the city were stopped midway,” the official said.

The existing encroachment triggered further encroachment inside the sanctuary, with a number of families adding to the settlements every year and perpetuating the process. Concerned local citizens have complained that the ongoing encroachment has been an organized one with strong political backing. The inertia of the Forest Department to the blatant violation of the sanctity of a protected area only lends credence to the public perception.

Along with encroachment, anthropogenic pressure on the wildlife habitat has increased manifold, creating a situation conducive for various wildlife crimes such as poaching, tree-felling, etc.

Home to diverse fauna including 44 species of mammals and over 250 species of birds, Amchang offered every opportunity to be developed as an ideal protected area but the State’s politicians and bureaucrats seem to think otherwise. Given its proximity to the city, Amchang could have emerged as an ideal tourist spot, especially for hiking and trekking.

Share Button
Posted by on August 23, 2013. Filed under Assam,Breaking News,EARTH,NORTH EAST,Wildlife. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login