Public Uproar for Amazon of the East

A public uprising in social media has arisen throughout northeast India over safeguarding a sanctuary from rampant opencut mining for coal. Campaigners argued that the Centre government allowed mining inside Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, in the Dibrugarh and Tinsukia Districts of Assam, the Amazon of the East.

Soon after, a dedicated conservation group issued a strong statement that the movement was not based on facts, as there was no mining inside the sanctuary. This fact was later authenticated by the State government in Dispur.

Earlier, a good number of environmental enthusiasts, celebrities, social activists, journalists came out with the demand to preserve the sanctuary through their posts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. They tried to convince the people that the sanctuary was in danger because of the proposed mining as it would make a negative impact on the bio diversity, water & land resources and even the ethnic communities living there for centuries.

The campaigners with various inputs asserted that the Union environment and forest ministry permitted coal mining in the sanctuary. That was not true, because the process was related to a proposed reserved forest at Saleki under the designated Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, which is not protected under the wildlife protection acts. Dehing Patkai sanctuary is far away from Saleki reserved area, where the coal mining was going on since 1884.

Not only were the local and national defenders of nature, including politicians, student leaders, non-government organization functionaries pushing this line. Global bodies like the Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL) also joined in the chorus. The Quezon City (Philippines) based global forum denounced New Delhi’s approval for large scale coal mining in rainforests and protected forest reserves of Assam.

They acted on fake news.

walking in dehing patkai forest. Photo by Nava Thakuria.
Walking in Dehing Patkai forest. Photo by Nava Thakuria.

Dehing Patkai’s delicate ecosystem on the south bank of mighty Brahmaputra river has been declared an elephant reserve. Lying under the Eastern Himalayas and the Indo-Burma global biodiversity hotspots, the rainforest is also known as Amazon of the East. Campaigners argued that when Amazon forests in Brazil were burning, the world community wept, but now only a few people are reacting to Dehing Patkai’s fate.

Not only Assam’s State bird (white winged wood duck), State flower (fox tail orchid) and State tree (hollong) are found in Dehing Patkai forest region, it is also a cultural hub with dozens of different ethnic groups traditionally living in coexistence with the forest. These communities use its resources, including indigenous Assamese communities like Tai Phake, Khamyang, Khampti, Singpho, Nocte, Ahom, Koibarta, Moran & Motok, Tea-tribes, Burmese & Nepali speaking people, etc. in the fringe area.

Even though India emerges as the world’s fourth-largest coal producer, the forum called on the executive authorities, concerned companies with others for respecting the recognized process to exploit natural resources. It also appealed for everyone to stand up for defending the right to self-determination and rich cultural heritage of Tai, Tibeto-Burmese ethnic communities, Tea tribe people, etc with coal mining practices.

As everything was murky, Soumyadeep Datta, a dedicated environmental activist, came out with the strong revelation that there was no mining activity inside the sanctuary and it was completely safe. Dispur also clarified the matter to the people. Ashoka fellow Datta, who leads conservation group Nature’s Beckon, asserted that some groups were misleading the people with wrong information about the coal mining operations inside the sanctuary.

The campaign to save the sanctuary slowly drew the attention of the public and various motivated elements tried to extract benefits out of the situation. Illegal miners, opposition party leaders, anti-BJP clouts, motivated media persons tried their best to manufacture an uprising. One can see many individuals, who made a failed attempt for a sustainable public uproar against CAA, came together to corner the government with an environmental issue.

dehing patkai forest path. Photo by Nava Thakuria.
Dehing Patkai forest path. Amazon of the East. Photo by Nava Thakuria.

Nature’s Beckon lately reiterated its old demand to declare a 500 sq km area of contiguous rainforests as protected reserve forest. The conservation group, which has published several books such as ‘Rainforests of Assam,’ ‘Dihing Patkai Abhyaranya,’ ‘Namchangor Antespur’ with thousands of awareness brochures, requested State chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal to include the remaining and adjoining area of contiguous rainforest under the domain of Dehing Patkai sanctuary.

Patriotic People’s Front Assam (PPFA), a forum of nationalists, endorsed the demand for expanding the area of Dehing Patkai sanctuary covering most of the forest cover under the elephant reserve. Supporting the proposal of Soumyadeep Datta, PPFA claimed that the initiative would not only protect the entire rainforest area, but also prevent motivated elements from extracting undue mileage over the issue.

dehing patkai forest. Photo by Nava Thakuria.
Dehing Patkai forest. Photo by Nava Thakuria.
Nava Thakuria
Nava Thakuria is a Guwahati (Northeast India) based journalist, who contributes to NewsBlaze and various media outlets throughout the world.