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The vast stretches of wilderness in Dima Hasao district of Assam
The vast stretches of wilderness in Dima Hasao district of Assam|Anwaruddin Choudhury
ASSAM

A national park in Dima Hasao, Assam: To be or not to be?

While talks are on for a new national park in the hill district of Assam, there is scepticism about the proposal, especially among the local residents

Nabarun Guha

On a bright sunny morning in November 2016, the idea of a national park in Dima Hasao district was sowed in the mind of famed naturalist Anwaruddin Choudhury for the first time. He was going on a flight from Silchar to Guwahati. Looking down from the window, he saw the vast stretches of wilderness across North Cachar Hills which were a sight to behold.

Choudhury, who is also the development commissioner for Hill Areas under Assam government, has recently submitted proposal for a national park to the North Cachar Hills (Dima Hasao) Autonomous Council. If the proposal is approved, it will be the sixth national park in Assam after Kaziranga, Manas, Nameri, Orang and Dibru-Saikhowa. In that case, it will also be the first protected forest of Dima Hasao, known as Assam’s greenest district with a forest cover with almost 87%.

Speaking to EastMojo, Choudhury said, “Being also a member of the State Wildlife Advisory Board, I gave the proposal of a national park in Dima Hasao to the council. They have liked the idea and after a survey in the area, a proposal will be sent to Guwahati, following which an order notifying the area as national park will be passed.”

Impenetrable national park

There is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, known for its population of mountain gorillas. Much on its lines, Choudhury has named this proposed protected forest as Simleng River Impenetrable National Park because of its inaccessible nature. Covering 100 sq km in Dima Hasao, this park will be contagious with Barail Wildlife Sanctuary in Cachar district and Nampuh Wildlife Sanctuary in Jaintia Hills, Meghalaya.

Mentioning that this proposed national park will be a unique experience for tourists, Choudhury said, “This place is in a very remote area. If you come from Cachar, you will have to cross a ridge. If you venture from the Meghalaya side, you will encounter a Grand Canyon like gorge. It is around 60 km from Haflong. The terrain is completely unexplored and so it should fascinate adventure seekers.”

The area, according to Choudhury, has got very rich biodiversity which will attract nature lovers. “There is a good population of hoolock gibbons, serow, gorals, barking deer, sambar and clouded leopard in those forests. One can also find very healthy avian population as well. There are five species of Dhanesh bird found here along with other rare birds like Rufous Necked Hornbill,” he said.

Currently, Dima Hasao has three reserve forests -- Langtingmupa Reserve Forest (491.78 sq km), Khrungming Reserve Forest (122.88 sq km) and Borail Reserve Forest (48.50 sq km).

Confusion over the project

However, the project is yet to get official confirmation from the council. The forest department of Dima Hasao is also tight-lipped regarding the matter. Namkey Jeme, DFO, Dima Hasao (West), under whom this proposed area comes, said, “We are yet to get any proposal for a national park. We are planning to send a proposal to the council to notify Barail Reserve Forest as a protected forest. But anything other than that, we are unaware of.”

A forest official, on condition of anonymity, however welcomed the idea of a national park in Dima Hasao. He said, “If this happens, then it should be for everyone’s good. When tourists will start coming here, this area will get much needed exposure. Eco Development Committees (EDC) can be formed to engage locals. Also, despite having such a huge forest cover and a wide array of wildlife, we are yet to have a wildlife division in our district. It is our territorial division which looks after the wildlife part as well. We also need a rescue and rehabilitation centre for wild animals in our district. So, all these issues might get addressed if a national park happens here.”

Locals’ reactions

After The Assam Tribune first reported about this proposed national park in Dima Hasao on June 2, this news spread like wildfire. Haflong-based conservationist Bankim Haflongbar said that there is scepticism about the proposal in Dima Hasao.

“In North Cachar Hills, forest is conserved by communities. Also, people here are not very materialistic in nature. They are content with their lives and do not wish much intrusion from outside. So, a national park might disturb the harmony that exists between communities and forests here,” he said.

Singer and satirist Daniel Langthasa, who became an elected member of North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council from Haflong recently, said that while youngsters are enthusiastic about the development, elders are not so sure. “Teenagers who use smart phones are obviously very excited about this proposed national park because they think it will bring tourists and give our area lot of exposure. However, our elders have few concerns. If forest department wants to go ahead with the project, they will need to consult the people. Locals living in the area should not be displaced because of the national park,” he said.

Choudhury, however, said that the area has hardly any human settlement. “The southern fringe of the park is Barail Wildlife Sanctuary of Cachar, western fringe is Nongkhyllem Wildlife Sanctuary and northern fringe is Saipung Reserve Forest in Meghalaya. Only, in eastern fringe, you will find some human settlement,” he added.

He has also suggested that Barail Reserve Forest and the adjacent forest to Hajong lake, which is incidentally a part of Langtingmupa Reserve Forest, should be turned into protected forests.

Noted conservationist Jayanta K Das, who had recently visited Dima Hasao, welcomed the idea of a national park here. He said, “Issues like hunting of wild animals is quite rampant here. This year, a rare white deer which was spotted in Dima Hasao was killed. So, if a national park and a wildlife division come up here, those issues can be addressed.”