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Stone quarrying off Kaziranga eroding wildlife habitat, corridors

 KAZIRANGA, Jan 20 - Increasing stone quarrying and mining activities in the Karbi Anglong hills near Kaziranga National Park and Tiger Reserve and Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Elephant Reserve in blatant violation of Supreme Court-mandated eco-sensitive zone norms are not only eroding wildlife habitat and corridors but also causing blockage and pollution to the rivulets and streams that feed the wetlands of Kaziranga.

The water channels are also widely used by wildlife in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape.

“A number of illegal stone quarries have been operating on the Karbi Anglong side for a long time. This has caused disturbance to wildlife, eroded wildlife habitat and corridors, and blocked and polluted life-giving water-bodies. The Kaziranga National Park ecology and the well-being of its wildlife are intrinsically linked to the Karbi Anglong forests,” Akashdeep Baruah, Director, Kaziranga National Park, told The Assam Tribune.

Baruah added that the immediate need was to stop the illegal quarrying, clear the blocked streams and rivulets, and get the wildlife habitat and corridors restored.

“We are coordinating with the police and the administration in acting tough on the ongoing illegal activities on the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape. A few quarries have been stopped but a lot more needs to be done,” he said, adding that mining waste was being dumped on streambeds.

According to conservationists, the mining lobby involves influential and powerful persons and hence the reluctance of the government machinery to crack down hard on the offenders.

Baruah said that mining activities were cutting off wildlife corridors and vital wildlife habitat, particularly essential for long-ranging species like elephants and tigers. “Otherwise also, the contiguity between Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong is a must for its wildlife to thrive,” he said.

The Kaziranga landscape is dominated by vast stretches of wetlands, including swamps, marshes and other low-lying water-bodies, besides criss-crossing streams that have evolved over the centuries and which are intrinsically linked to its teeming biodiversity.

Worryingly, the wetland network inside Kaziranga has already been adversely affected due to siltation, which in turn is eroding their water retention capacity. The spurt in mining activities on the nearby Karbi Anglong hills is bound to worsen the problem.

The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) under the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change had on April 20 last year directed the State government to “stop mining, quarrying, stone crusher activities in the Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong Landscape with immediate effect”. This followed a site inspection by the NTCA in January 2018.

The NTCA also warned that the Kaziranga National Park was at a “high risk” of “permanently” losing its habitat connectivity with the larger Karbi Anglong landscape due to illegal mining.

The NTCA has directed the Assam government to take “immediate action” to stop mining, quarrying and stone crusher operations within a 10-km radius of the Tiger Reserve but the government has failed to honour the directive.

Further, the NTCA suggested that keeping in view the long-term conservation of mega herbivores like rhino, elephant and mega carnivores like tiger, the Kaziranga Tiger Reserve boundary be rationalised by including areas of Karbi Anglong adjoining Kaziranga.

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