KALAIGAON, July 19 - In a development that holds out hope for long-term conservation amid the gloom of large-scale deforestation in Assam, specially in violence-infested Udalguri district, villagers of six villages along the Assam-Bhutan-Arunachal border at Bhairabkunda joined hands successfully and regenerated a stretch of barren sandy forest land.
The result of this community initiative under joint forest management committee (JFMC) is evident with the regenerated forest expanse of 5,500 bighas already emerging as a shelter for wild animals and birds. The 22.24 sq km Bhairabkunda Reserve Forest (RF) was left without a single tree by the early 1980s due to rampant illegal logging.
An afforestation drive by the Forest Department in association with the people of six villages, namely Sonaigaon, Bhairabpur, Goroimari, Sapangaon, No.1 Mazargaon and No. 2 Mazargaon started in April 2007. Within five years, a spectacular man-made forest presently known as Gedsimani Forest (JFMC) grew up at Sapangaon by converting a plot of barren sandy land measuring 5,500 bighas into a new picturesque forest with the planting of more than 14,00,000 saplings (which could be a world record) of various valuable species like khoir, gamari, simul, shisham etc., near the Dhansiri river, very close to Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh. The people have now urged both the Assam Government and the BTC administration to provide funds for maintaining the forest area.
Wildlife lovers of Assam hope that the place would draw the attention of tourists from all over the world, if the Government develops the area’s infrastructure. The regenerated forest land now has rich vegetation and is shelter to wild animals and birds, besides various species of flora. A small river with several canals – a few of those man-made, runs throughout the forest, providing replenishment for the green cover. Nature-loving office-bearers of the JFMC, namely Esmail Daimari, Elision Daimari, Lenin Daimari, Bimal Daimari, Purna Daimari, Atul Basumatari, Prenson Daimari, Pilup Daimari, Alfred Daimari, Helena Basumatari and Someswari Daimari believe that with some support from the Assam Government and the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC), the area can be developed as an ideal eco-tourism hub. With rivers criss-crossing the verdant Assam-Bhutan-Arunachal border and the Bhairabkunda Reserve Forest providing some undulating trekking trails, there is definite scope for promoting tourism.
In 2003, 35 villagers formed and registered Sonaigaon Multipurpose Farm for cultivation. These people then came into contact with Naba Kumar Bordoloi, the then Forest Range Officer serving at Bhairabkunda RF. Bordoloi convinced the members of the farm to proceed with planting of trees under JFMC (Joint Forest Management) scheme. In 2005, the process of documentation, survey etc., had been conducted and a proposal was submitted to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests. Plantation was carried out between 2007 and 2011. It has been a continuous process when people of the six villages, including students, women etc., have planted more than 14 lakh saplings till now. All the saplings were well protected by the members. They formed six sub-committees under the central committee. The six sub committees were: 1.Goraimari JFMC; 2.Sonaigaon JFMC; 3. Sapangaon JFMC; 4.Bhairabpur JFMC; 5. No.1 Majorgaon JFMC and 6. No.2 Majorgaon JFMC.
It is a matter of pleasure that wild animals like elephants, leopards, mongoose, python, deer, wild boar, various species of snakes etc., have found shelter there. A flying snake of Paradise was also seen in the forest last year. Wild elephants were seen delivering babies in this forest last year, bringing a ray of hope in mitigating the severe man-elephant conflict in Udalguri district. So far, more than 83 people and 35 wild elephants have lost their lives in the district during the last five years (2012-2016) because of rapid destruction of forests. The arrival of the wild elephants here is a good sign as they can live peacefully in the forest with plenty of fodder and drinking water.
Unfortunately, there is no fund for maintenance of the forest since 2011. The honest and simple villagers have been working without any salary since 2007. Neither the BTC nor the Assam Government ever thought of supporting this unusual man-made forest. Only the then Deputy Commissioner of Udalguri, Thaneswar Malakar arranged to construct a guest house for the visitors and members with Rs 5,00,000. Aranyak of Assam supported them with two solar light sets. Members of the Udalguri District Journalists’ Union and the Udalguri Press Club have requested the BTC authority and DFO, Dhansiri Forest Division, Udalguri to support them with some schemes for more plantation for providing shelter to wild animals and birds and to promote eco-tourism in the district.