Silchar: A little over eight years ago, the Cachar Paper mill shut its doors for good. The Congress was still in power and the BJP, which was primed to take over, had promised that both the Cachar paper mill and the Nagaon paper mill (which continued functioning until 2017) would be revived.

Nine years on, the only progress Cachar paper mill has made is in its status. It is no longer just a defunct paper mill; it has now become a wildlife sanctuary of sorts.

Once one of the biggest industries in Assam, the Cachar paper mill has become a ‘jungle’ with wild animals and reptiles like monkeys, wild pigs, foxes and snakes making the mill’s area their habitat in the last few years.

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Located in Hailakandi district’s Panchgram, about 24 km from Silchar, the mill was the only industry in Barak Valley before being declared non-functional. The industry is spread over an area of over 3000 bighas and it, at present, is in a decrepit state with ramshackle buildings and dilapidated/dusty roads along with unwanted foliage all around. The mill, which had its commercial production started in 1988, used to export paper in its heyday apart from fulfilling the necessity of paper in the country.

Talking to EastMojo, Panchgram residents said monkeys have turned the mill into their shelter over the past few years and added that their numbers have grown at alarming rates in the past few months. Besides the primates, wild pigs and snakes have also made shelters in and around the industry. Locals said incidents of snakes entering residences have been on the rise. Besides, wild pigs have been roaming in residential areas after sundown, causing panic among the areas’ dwellers.

A resident of Panchgram said nearly 50-60 persons, including kids and elderly people, have been attacked/bitten by monkeys in Panchgram and Srikona in the past six months.

Monkeys often enter houses, attack people and devour food. People have to keep their doors closed all the time so that monkeys do not enter their houses, the resident said.

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A resident of Srikona, Azim Ahmed Barlaskar, said people bitten by monkeys end up spending around Rs. 4,000 on vaccines, which is not a small sum for people who lost their jobs a decade ago. The forest department and district authorities must think about the people and take necessary action to resolve the problem at the earliest, Azim said.

Subhash Deb, secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Cachar unit, stressed that the matter be treated with utmost importance and sought the intervention of the district forest authorities and district administration in this regard.

Katakhal forest beat officer Sabinoy Deb told EastMojo on Tuesday there are around 10,000 monkeys in Panchgram and its neighbouring areas and their numbers are growing rapidly. Apart from monkeys, there are foxes, pigs, snakes and monitor lizards in large numbers, Deb said.

“People living in quarters used to give food to the monkeys and they were under control, but once the mill got closed and the quarters vacated, the primates made the mill’s area their habitat and began growing rapidly. Now, they go on rampages often attacking people and entering houses,” he added.

He said they have taken various measures to stop the wild animals, particularly monkeys, from coming into residential areas, but they have failed to do so as the number of the animals is massive. “We have tried using firecrackers, chilli powder and bow and arrow to scare them away so that they do not intrude in residential areas in Panchgram, but nothing has worked,” he said.

He said they patrol the areas in Panchgram (where monkeys roam around) from time to time to stop them from coming into residential areas but this will not help in getting a permanent solution. “We have informed about the matter to the state government multiple times and efforts were made, but the problem remains unsolved,” Deb added.

The president of the Cachar Paper Mill Project Workers’ Union Manabendra Chakraborty asked the government to take immediate steps to revive the industry and claimed that the problem of wild animals will be solved if the mill is restarted.

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Dipak Chandra Nath, general secretary of the Cachar Paper Mill Officers and Supervisors Association, echoed Chakraborty saying the government should reopen the mill for the economic development of Barak Valley and Assam.

When contacted, A. Dutta, district forest officer, Hailakandi told EastMojo that they have tried scaring away the wild animals, especially monkeys, from residential areas in Panchgram and they have managed to do so to a certain extent. “The number of monkeys is huge in Panchgram. We will communicate with the Cachar district forest officer to achieve a permanent solution,” Dutta said.

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