BARPETA, Oct 18 – At a time when the Manas National Park, which is also a Project Tiger area, has been facing serious problems like poaching, smuggling and presence of extremist elements, a new problem has surfaced to threaten the very existence of the park. Encroachment on some vital parts of the park has made the situation so grave that even the World Heritage Committee has noted it with serious concern with a warning to inscribe the park as a World Heritage Site in Danger.
The Bhuyapara Range is the worst affected as about 150 hectares of land are in the grip of encroachers. Most areas at Betbari, Natun Betbari and Agrang beats under the Bhuyapara Range have been occupied by them. The land has been gradually occupied by sections of residents of the fringe villages. Though they have not constructed any permanent structures on the occupied land, they have been cultivating crops after destroying the forest cover. With no obstruction from any quarters, the encroachers are fast approaching the park and more and more areas are being occupied every year.
The situation under the Panbari Range is also not different from that in Bhuyapara. Though the land under encroachment is less than Bhuyapara, some people have already built houses and are refusing to move away.
Neither the park authority nor the Government has undertaken any steps to evict the encroachers and free the land. As a result, the world famous park has lost a vast area and if the current situation prevails for a few more years, both the Bhuyapara and Panbari ranges will cease to exist on the map of the park.
The issue of encroachment has been taken very seriously by the World Heritage Committee, which has warned that if the Government fails to check encroachment, it may lead to such a situation that the park may be inscribed as a World Heritage Site in Danger.
The smuggling of timber has also added to the woes of the park. The felling of valuable and old trees is going on unabated in the Betbari, Tangonmara, Koirbari, Agrang Digjira and Panda areas under the Bhuyapara Range. Large areas in the eastern part of the range office have been denuded. There is no forest cover in these areas, compelling the wildlife to shift to other crowded habitats.
It is learnt that the World Heritage Committee has urged the Government to adopt measures to conserve the park and strengthen the security system. It has also instructed the Government to inform the committee about the measures adopted by February, 2015. If the Government fails to comply with this directive, the park may lose the status of a World Heritage Site for the second time after 1992.
The Manas National Park was declared a World Heritage Site in 1995. But due to the devastation during the Bodo agitation in the late 1990s, it lost the status and was enlisted as a World Heritage Site in Danger. Rigorous efforts by the BTAD and the park authority enabled it to retain the honour for the second time after 19 years in 2011.
But the prevailing situation in the park is not at all satisfactory, which has attracted the ire of the World Heritage Committee under the UNESCO.