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Plea to declare forests around Chandubi wetland as wildlife sanctuary
MOBARAQUE HUSSAIN
 MIRZA, Nov 26 - Environmental activists have urged the Assam Government to declare the forests encompassing the Chandubi wetland, including Borduar, Mayong and Mataikhar reserve forests (RFs) in Kamrup district as wildlife sanctuary for better conservation of the green cover and its denizens, besides curbing further degeneration of the Chandubi wetland.

A Conservator of Forests, who once served in the Chandubi areas a few years back told The Assam Tribune on condition of anonymity, that the forests surrounding the Chandubi wetland, namely Borduar, Mayong and Mataikhar reserve forests amply have the potential to be declared a wildlife Sanctuary. In this connection, the concerned DFO could be entrusted with the job of submitting a formal proposal for declaring the proposed area under reference as a wildlife sanctuary, he observed.

Top officials of Kamrup West (Forest) Division, in which the Chandubi forest areas are located, said that people residing near the Chandubi forests have over the years realised the importance of green cover and have, therefore, stopped felling trees since the past few years. He said there would be more positive development in the Chandubi area if the forests along the Chandubi wetland is officially notified as a wildlife sanctuary.

“For example, the concerned Forest personnel would be armed with stringent laws to protect the flora and fauna of Chandubi forests if a wildlife sanctuary is officially declared covering Borduar, Mataikhar and Mayong reserve forests, including Chandubi wetland,” opined a top official of Kamrup West (Forest) Division.

Debajit Napha, a leader of All Rabha Students’ Union (ARSU) and also a leading personality of the Chandubi area, told this Correspondent over telephone that flora and fauna pertaining to the Chandubi wetland and its adjoining reserve forests would survive only if Chandubi and its adjoining reserve forests are notified as a wildlife sanctuary on a priority basis.

“We have, several times over the years, been demanding the Government in various forums to declare the forests covering the Chandubi wetland as a wildlife sanctuary for better protection of wildlife, trees, herbs and shrubs that exist,” Napha said.

It may be mentioned here that ARSU has been playing a key role in protecting the forests in Borduar, Mayong and Mataikhar reserve forests since the past several years.

Talking to this Correspondent over telephone, renowned wildlife expert of Gauhati University, Professor Parimal Chandra Bhattacharjya said that the forests covering the Chandubi wetland definitely has the potential for being declared a wildlife sanctuary or a community reserve, which would profoundly help to protect the flora and fauna there.

“However, a lot of ground work has to be done before declaring Chandubi forests as a wildlife sanctuary. The opinion of the people of the concerned areas/villages has to be taken first before proposing Chandubi forests as a wildlife sanctuary,” he said.

As per a survey conducted by this scribe a few years back, the richly forested Borduar, Mayong and Mataikhar reserve forests in Chandubi area under Loharghat Forest Range under Kamrup West (Forests) Division in the south bank of the Brahmaputra close to the foothills of the Meghalaya Plateau is the habitat of some endangered and threatened species, including hollock gibbon, capped langur, rhesus macaque, leopard, leopard cat, clouded leopard, barking deer, sambar, wild pig, Chinese pangolin, Asiatic elephant, Malayan giant squirrel, slow loris, hog-badger, hoary bamboo rat, Himalayan black bear, yellow-throated marten, Chinese porcupine, rufous-tailed hare, jungle cat, large Indian civet etc. There were reports of gharials and tigers roaming in the Chandubi beel area and its adjoining forests once upon a time.

As far as the reptiles are concerned, king cobra, banded krait, rock python, viper, common monitor lizard, Asian water monitor lizard, keeled box turtle, brown hill tortoise, Asian leaf turtle etc., have also been reported to exist in the Chandubi forests.

Further, over 200 species of birds have been reported in Chandubi and its adjoining forests, which include white-cheeked partridge, khaleej pheasant, grey peacock pheasant, green imperial pigeon, Blyth’s kingfisher, great pied hornbill (occasional), black baza, black eagle, hill myna, black-headed oriole, red-breasted parakeet, bronze-winged jacana, lesser adjutant stork, greater adjutant stork (occasional) etc. Significantly, many species are yet to be identified.

On the flip side, sources pointed out that biodiversity in the Chandubi wetland, which has already been listed as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Bird Life International, has degenerated year after year and several species of fauna, including some of the threatened fish species, have already been wiped out of the wetland allegedly due to indiscriminate fishing and other causes.

The wetland was earlier thriving with hundreds of patches of floating grasses (called bher in local language), though at present a majority of the patches of bher have been removed or destroyed, allegedly by some of the fishermen, which has obviously disturbed the natural environment and beauty of the lake.

Sources also informed that the Chandubi wetland was dotted with remains of sal trees (called mura) for the past several hundred years. It was, therefore, difficult to deploy engine-fitted boats or speed boats into service in the Chandubi wetland due to these remains of sal trees.

But today a majority of the muras have been gradually uprooted from the bed of the enchanting wetland, thus resulting in damage of its unique beauty.

Considerable soil erosion in the catchment area of the Chandubi wetland has also been a cause of much concern. The eroded soil has further slipped into the wetland from the hills through rainwater or rain-fed streams, which is one of the main factor behind the Chandubi wetland becoming shallower by the day.

It goes without saying that the Chandubi forest is shrinking year after year and biodiversity conservation is under tremendous pressure. Once a favourite destination of migratory birds, the vibrant jungle, fast-flowing hilly rivulets, serene lake with undulating picturesque tea gardens, Chandubi and its forests are now losing its past glory and may soon disappear.

Sources pointed out that the Chandubi wetland was created in an instant after a major earthquake measuring 8.7 in the Richter scale which occurred in June 12, 1897. A hill standing in the place where the lake exists today, suddenly sank with a great sound and tremor, and the entire hollow area thereafter was covered with water, which today stands out as the Chandubi wetland. Conservation of the wetland and its biodiversity therefore assumes significance from this point of view.

If a wildlife sanctuary is declared someday, the lush green forests of Borduar, Mayong and Mataikar reserve forests along with its precious wildlife could be protected in a better manner as the law would be more stringent then, than it is today.

Moreover, further degeneration of the Chandubi wetland could be easily thwarted with a well thought out scientific plan of action along with strict implementation of law, which would ultimately usher in economic development of the forest villages located in the fringe areas of the three reserve forests, besides boosting the prospect of wildlife tourism, sources said.

It may be mentioned here that some progress was achieved under the initiative of Dr Anwaruddin Choudhury, the then Joint Secretary of Forests, Assam, who visited the Chandubi Beel and its adjoining forests in 2003-2004 and directed the then Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Kamrup West (Forests) Division to submit a proposal for declaring the area as a wildlife sanctuary.

It is on record that the then DFO had reportedly submitted a draft proposal on Chandubi wildlife sanctuary in the office of the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF). It is also reported that the CCF had asked Bhupen Talukdar, former Ranger of Kaziranga National Park, who is a well known wildlife expert, to inquire whether the Chandubi forests could be declared as a wildlife sanctuary or not. It is not known whether Bhupen Talukdar submitted his report or not, but since then the proposal for wildlife sanctuary covering Chandubi forests has been reported to be under wraps.

Ironically, despite official visit by two chief ministers, namely Tarun Gogoi and Sarbananda Sonowal, the Chandubi wetland and its adjoining forests remain in the same plundered condition, with no action against degeneration of the once thickly forested area and the Chandubi wetland being taken up for concrete action thus far.

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