Guwahati, Tuesday, April 10, 2012
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Vanishing ‘sacred groves’ of Meghalaya

 SHILLONG, April 9 – Patches of forest measuring anywhere between 0.1 hectares to 1,200 hectares which are bio-diversity hot spots have been unique to Meghalaya for centuries, but now they are falling into disarray owing to reasons as diverse as poverty, cultural change and migration.

Local Khasi tribes consider the forests as “sacred groves”, some of which have even little streams criss-crossing them, but yet poverty of their owners is forcing them to sell the exotic varieties of trees and other resources found there.

“There are hundreds of tribal clans whose forests have not been documented and they are diminishing due to harsh economic circumstances and unplanned human activity,” the chairman of the Grand Council of Chiefs, JF Kharshiing, said.

Seeking the urgent attention of the government to the dwindling forests, Kharshiing said, “In view of the global concern on climate change, the government should take immediate steps to engage with the owners of the rare forests in the State”.

Kharshiing, who is also the co-chairman of the Meghalaya State Planning Board, said the government should institute some sort of incentive and award system to preserve the forests.

Surrounded by Castanopsis Kurzii trees, the forests are considered “nature’s own museum” with a treasure trove of unique flora and fauna including plants seldom seen in other parts of the world. Aroids, pipers, fern-allies and orchids are found in abundance in these groves.

So far 115 such “sacred groves” have been documented in the State even as researchers engaged in the study believe that there are many more which are yet to be documented due to fund constraints.

We have so far documented and listed 115 sacred groves located in different parts of the State. Most of them are found in Khasi hills (West, East and Rib hoi), Jaintia hills and a few in the Garo hills,” a professor at the North Eastern Hills University, BK Tiwari, said.

“We are moving for getting financial supports from funding agencies for our new projects on sacred groves, but we have suggested to the State Forest department to get the work done as ours is more for academic purposes,” he said.

Tiwari acknowledged that the State Government had extended financial help to the Mawphlang grove, located about 25 km south of Shillong, but wanted other groves to be equally paid attention to.

The researcher said that the NEHU has decided to propose to the government to explore the possibility of providing incentives to these community-preserved forests to help them continue to manage and preserve them. – PTI

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