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Forest dept presentation on Dehing Patkai omits Jeypore RF from ESZ map

 GUWAHATI, Aug 27 - The much-awaited addition of the biodiversity-rich Jeypore reserve forest into the proposed Dehing Patkai National Park hit an unexpected roadblock, with the State forest department’s latest eco-sensitive zone (ESZ) finalisation presentation for the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary shockingly omitting the reserve forest from the ESZ map.

 The alteration in the map was apparently done to accommodate hydrocarbon exploration proposals from Oil India Limited (OIL) in the Jeypore area. OIL had recently (on June 8) moved the State Environment Impact Assessment Authority for environmental clearance of eight exploratory drilling locations there.

The ESZ presentation on August 18 was made by Additional PCCF and State Chief Wildlife Warden MK Yadav before an expert panel meeting of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (through video conference) for the declaration of ESZ around wildlife sanctuaries/national parks/tiger reserves.

The lush-green Jeypore RF that accounts for a high faunal diversity with as many as seven cat species (the maximum for any single forest in the world), comprises 110 sq km, of which only 24 sq km are inside the wildlife sanctuary at present.

Forest department sources told The Assam Tribune that the omission of Jeypore was done to facilitate drilling activities by OIL in and around the Jeypore area – a move that has not gone down well with many in the department, including the top brass.

Sources, however, added that the proposed changes in the ESZ map were likely to be rejected by the expert panel as the wildlife sanctuary’s upgrading process to a national park with Jeypore as a key inclusion had already started. In such an eventuality or the failure of the department to finalise the ESZ, a 10-km radius from the border of the sanctuary will be deemed as ESZ, which will include Jeypore.

“After the presentation, the matter was again taken up with the Union ministry as the forest department had recently given a strong push for inclusion of the entire Jeypore area in the national park. Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has also taken personal interest in expanding and upgrading the sanctuary by including Jeypore and some other contiguous belts,” a top official said.

Sources said that the change in the ESZ map (the earlier map had the entire Jeypore in the ESZ) was done unilaterally by the Chief Wildlife Warden without approval from the department head and created a consternation in the department.

The developments have put the forest department in poor light, raising questions why it was going out of its way to accommodate the oil lobby rather than honouring its mandate of protecting the forests. Ironically, the forest department had at a recent meeting on demarcation of the proposed national park taken an in-principle stand for including the whole of Jeypore in the national park.

The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is one of the prime habitats of primates, elephants, cats and a few critically endangered species of animals and birds. The flagship species of the sanctuary is hoolock gibbon, the only ape found in India. The sanctuary is connected to forests of Arunachal Pradesh on the southeast border, which serves as a corridor to elephants and other wild animals like tigers.

A total of 43 mammals have been recorded here, with 17 carnivore species camera-trapped by wildlife biologist Dr Kashmira Kakati in the sanctuary and the adjoining reserve forests – the highest for any site in India.

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