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NGOs call bluff on conservation


                                                                                                                                                  The Telegraph, 28th December, 2006


Dec. 27: The government’s sheer neglect of one of the major bird sanctuaries in Sivasagar district belies its claim that conservation is on its list of priorities.

The government’s apathy towards the Panidehing bird sanctuary has come in for much criticism from nature lovers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaged in conservation.

Located at a distance of around 22 km from Sivasagar town, Panidehing was accorded the status of a bird sanctuary in 1999. The total area of the sanctuary is 33.93 square km and comes under the Demow revenue circle.

There are 14 water bodies in the sanctuary, which is flanked by human habitat on three sides. To the north there is the Sapekhatibam forest village, Kokilamari village and Milankur village, in the east there is Dhalai and the Panidehing reserve forest, the Desang river is in the south, while the Brahmaputra lies to its west. Till date 165 species of birds, including 70 species of migratory birds, have been spotted in the sanctuary.

“All the government has done is declare Panidehing as a bird sanctuary. It has not built the required infrastructure or provided the additional manpower to man the sanctuary,” a source said.

Members of various NGOs who have visited the sanctuary have often come across cases of illegal fishing and poaching of birds inside the sanctuary.

“The sanctuary is surrounded by forest villages on three sides. Since the socio-economic condition of the fringe villages of the sanctuary is very poor, the villagers largely depend upon the sanctuary. This creates problems for us,” said Amal Sarma, the divisional forest officer of the Sivasagar division.

Moreover, there is an absence of grazing grounds, so the villagers take their cattle to the sanctuary.

“Rampant poaching of birds is a common phenomenon inside Panidehing. The forest department has failed to protect the sanctuary. The government too is to blame for the state of affairs, as it has done nothing for the development of the area as a tourist spot,” said Soumyadeep Datta, director of Nature’s Beckon, an environmental NGO.

At present, there are no accommodation facilities for tourists in the sanctuary and visitors visiting Panidehing have to stay in Sivasagar. There are plans to set up a lodge and an orientation centre in the sanctuary for tourists.
However, the forest department argues that they are initiating steps for the conservation of the sanctuary.

“First of all we will have to get the villagers to co-operate with us. We will have to develop strategies to ensure that the villagers and the birds in the sanctuary can co-exist peacefully. The NGOs too have a role to play,” Sarna said.

“So far we have 6 anti-poaching camps, two watch-towers and a beat office at Sorogua. We have to increase this infrastructure and equip our men with modern gadgets for better surveillance,” Sarma added.

At present, there are no accommodation facilities for tourists in the sanctuary and visitors visiting Panidehing have to stay in Sivasagar. There are plans to set up a lodge and an orientation centre in the sanctuary for tourists.

http://www.telegraphindia.com/1061228/asp/northeast/story_7188436.asp

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