Northeast up in arms against projects in eco-sensitive zones

Roars online
Last Updated 31 May 2020, 03:34 IST

"We can’t buy oxygen with money, can we?” Gauhati University’s zoology student Diksheeta Chutia’s post was retweeted by many within minutes on May 24. On the same day, hundreds took to twitter and posted several similar catchy and strong posts using #SaveDehingPatkai on Twitter, an online campaign launched to oppose the Centre’s move to allow coal mining at Saleki, a part of Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve in eastern Assam.

The “twitter storm” campaign topped the twitter trends that evening. The campaign was launched by the varsity’s Eco Club and was later joined by students from Dibrugarh University, Tezpur University and Bhattadev University.

“Since we can’t move out to the streets and protest due to the lockdown, we decided to do twitter storm, which has become a popular mode of campaign nowadays,” said Bidyut Bikash Das, an alumnus of Gauhati University, who is also part of the campaign.

“The coal mining being carried out near Dehing Patkai has already badly impacted the environment and lives of the indigenous people living in the fringe villages,” environmentalist Debarshi Raj Barman told DH. “Any form of mining (be it open cast or underground) will destroy the already endangered animal species like hoolock gibbon, 300 species of birds, mammals and the endemic orchid species in and around Dehing Patkai forest. More mining will increase the human-elephant conflicts and pollute waters in the rivers and streams there,” he said. “It is really surprising to see how the government used the lockdown time to move ahead with such a controversial project. They know that aggrieved people can’t protest much now.”

Dehing Patkai is locally known as Amazon of the East.

In its April 7 meeting, the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) took decisions regarding several projects across the country, including at least five in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram. The NBWL, a body under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC), also took steps for extension of drilling inside Dibru Saikhowa National Park in Tinsukia and Dibrugarh district in eastern Assam. Forest clearance for alignment of roads to connect Miao and remote Vijayanagar via Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh was also approved.

The recent nod for 3,097-MW Etalin hydroelectric project in Dibang Valley in Arunachal Pradesh also drew strong protests from the communities as well as experts. A similar “twitter storm” campaign is underway against the Etalin project.

On May 18, conservationists and former members of the NBWL together wrote a letter to MoEFCC seeking rejection of a key sub-committee’s nod for the project that would involve axing 2.7 lakh trees.

Assam forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya, who visited Dehing Patkai on May 27, said the place where the coal mining was proposed was away from the reserve areas. “But we will make sure that our forests, wildlife and ecology is protected,” he said.

Narayan Sharma, an assistant professor of environmental biology and wildlife sciences, Cotton University in Guwahati, said, “The forests of this region have been historically exploited for coal, oil and expansion of tea gardens. What remains today are shadows of their past. Despite all these, the forests of upper Assam still harbour stunning biodiversity which is unparalleled in the world. We should not intervene and jeopardise their habitats.”

(Published 30 May 2020, 18:14 IST)

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