-Novanita Sharma |
‘The silencing of the rainforest is a double deforestation, not only of trees, but a deforestation of the mind’s music, and medicine, and knowledge.’
Among all the different types of forests found on this planet, the tropical rainforests are world’s most primitive and richest terrestrial ecosystems; if the towering giants of these rainforests ever starts to talk, we human beings will get most baffling accounts of our world, our perceptions about these forests and about our planet may take an overhaul. The word ‘rainforest’ came into our world when German botanist A. F. W Schimper coined the term ‘rainforest’ to describe wet forests of tropics. Tropical rainforests are closed canopy forests which grow in areas where the annual rainfall is more than 200cm and is well distributed over the year. These forests of permanent tropics once grew luxuriantly to cover large tracts of earth. Due to the uniform high atmospheric temperature, humidity and rainfall, the rainforests are laden with immense biodiversity. Tropical rainforests are characterized by multistoried forests, where innumerable species of flora viz; ground dwelling herbs, shrubs, trees with medium height to very tall emergent trees constitutes the multiple layers of rainforest vegetation. The verdant rainforests which once covered huge chunk of our planet gradually got reduced in its expanse given to the advent of human civilization. The subsequent rise of modern human society and its burgeoning needs, the tropical rainforest cover shrunk to the state of current representative rainforest patches sporadically existing in handful of countries around the globe. Presently restricted to only 16% of the Earth’s surface, the existing rainforest cover of the planet is home to an unbelievable 80% of the entire biodiversity of the world. The surviving tropical rainforests are found in South America, Africa and Asia. The rainforests of the Indian subcontinent represent its unique natural history, the layers of vegetation have many secrets to reveal. Every year our planet is losing nothing less than 14,000 hectares of these tropical rainforests to various anthropogenic demands viz; agriculture, mining, timber and so many other reasons. The world is losing these rainforests even before discovering the hidden treasures of these primitive forests.
The human world fails to comprehend the magnitude of this loss, our blurred visions driven by economic scales faulters to spot the loss of history, loss of cultures and eventually loss of humanity which is incurred along with the destruction of every patch of these tropical rainforests wherever it is. The fight to protect and preserve these rainforests is gaining momentum but the fight is steep. These rich and rare natural treasures are sought after for their wealth of natural resources. A world defined and divided by the economic yardsticks fails to gauge the value of this natural treasures. The so-called developed nations have failed to rightfully play the fair precedent by sharing their fortunes with rest of the world, neither could they stop the rest to follow their defective development models. The largest surviving tropical rainforests are situated in countries which are caught up in the race of modern model of human development driven by urbanization, industrialization and individualization. We are simply losing ourselves to this madness which is evident in the rampant destruction of tropical rainforests and other precious natural ecosystems of the planet. The struggle to protect the surviving rainforests across the globe epitomizes the eternal predicament of human world, it represents the age-old debate between our conscience over our comfort. However, we must remember that present choices made by mankind will decide the fate of the tropical rainforests and in consequence of our planet in the imminent future.
Tropical rainforests in India are found in Western Ghats, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Assam and the Northeastern states of India. These rainforests of India play a significant role in maintaining the ecological balance of the country which is at the helm of developmental frenzy. The protection of these last remaining rainforests is of utmost importance for the future ecological as well as humanitarian well-being of our country. The tropical rainforests everywhere have borne the brunt of modern development, the rich natural resources of the tropical rainforests have furnished comforts of modernity to all our homes. Every patch of rainforest has fought its own battle of survival, the saga of the surviving rainforests of Assam is nothing different. Assam is home to India’s largest lowland tropical rainforest, which covers an area more than 900sqkm in the Dibrugarh and Tinsukia districts of Upper Assam. This is undeniably the richest forest space of Assam, but ironically the world remained oblivious about the existence of this pristine rainforest till the turn of 20th century. Nature’s Beckon, an environment activist group of Northeastern India brought this amazing patch of rainforest of Assam to the notice of the entire world. Nature’s Beckon had earned due respect from the people of Assam for their committed work since its inception in the field of wildlife conservation. Driven by pure love for nature and true motivation to protect the rare forests of Assam, Nature’s Beckon raised the first ever people’s movement for the conservation of the last remaining largest patch of Assam’s rainforest. This movement which came to be known as the rainforest conservation movement of Assam took momentum from 1994, where the fringe communities including villagers, women, youth, teachers, students along with many respectable journalists, writers, educationists, artists and nature loving people of Assam stood with Nature’s Beckon in its demand to the state government to protect 500sqkm of contiguous rainforest of Upper Assam by upgrading it to the status of wildlife sanctuary. Nature’s Beckon submitted its proposal for the protection of 500sqkm of the rainforest patch, this 500sqkm is a contiguous single canopy forest with absolutely no fragmentation and human habitation inside it. This 500sqkm of the rainforest included the Jeypore Reserve Forest, Upper Dehing Reserve Forest and Dirak Reserve Forest. This is the richest part of the entire rainforest patch which must get protected to ensure its future conservation. There was a time when most of Assam’s landmass was covered by similar tropical rainforest. Over a period of time this tropical rainforest stretches broke apart due to fragmentation, giving rise to smaller patches irregularly distributed over the state, many such fragmented chunks have lost all the characteristic features of tropical rainforest. Tropical rainforests are world’s richest biomes, the most precious and exciting forests which comprises of unbelievable diversity of life forms, these rainforests are climax forests which thrives on its self-sustained ecological cycle. The rainforests exist as self-sufficient entity, but this ecological balance gets very easily disrupted by outside interferences like discontinuity, fragmentation, undue extraction of forest resources, environmental pollution, hunting, etc. Assam lost vast stretches of its rainforests to such causes mostly driven by human needs which eventually took the form of unsatiating human greed. Various factors like agriculture, tea plantation, human habitation, mining of coal, extraction of crude oil, deforestation of rain- forest for timber, etc. resulted in the large-scale destruction of the rainforests of Assam. The exploitation of these rainforests begun during the colonial era and it continued without any change till today. The rainforests simply got handed over from the colonial rulers to the apathic Indian bureaucracy which failed to evolve with time, their outlook towards the use of natural resources remained archaic, the notion of rainforest conservation is a far-fetched idea for them. The existing rainforest patch of Upper Assam is a rare natural heritage, but the bureaucracy failed to consider its importance and this rainforest patch is still a bed of exploitation. The largest lowland rainforest of India needs protection to ensure its future survival in the wake of the looming dangers. Nature’s Beckon gauged these potential threats to this rainforest patch, the organization understood it that the only way to preserve this rarest rainforest patch of Assam is by upgrading this 500sqkm of rainforest into a wildlife sanctuary and ensure its complete protection under the Wildlife Protection Act of India. Forests in India are classified into different categories, this classification dates back to the pre-independence days, the erstwhile colonial rulers brought this classification to facilitate an easy access to and exploitation of Indian forests for their own benefit. A large section of forests in India are classified as Reserve forests. The people of this country have remained unaware of the very fact that the status of ‘Reserve forest’ does not entail any protection to the forests, these Reserve forests are rather kept reserved by the Forest department to exploit its resources whenever they wish to. While the unsuspecting people of the country considers the Forest department to be the guardian and protector of the country’s forests, on the contrary this very unit of government machinery was designed to collect revenue from utilization or exploitation of the forests in India. For the Forest department, utilization of the forest resources is far more important than its conservation and protection. In such scenario the prospect of giving protection to 500sqkm of rich rainforest patch of Assam was a far cry.
Nature’s Beckon created awareness regarding this rich rainforest patch of Upper Assam. For the first time ever, people came to know about the existence of such immensely rich rainforest in Assam, people also understood the urgency to upgrade the status of this rainforest from that of Reserve forest to Wildlife sanctuary. Nature’s Beckon proposed the name ‘Joydehing Wildlife sanctuary’ for the 500sqkm of the contiguous rainforest patch of Upper Assam. The rainforest conservation movement of Assam captured world’s attention with its vibrant drive, the movement consolidated support from many wildlife biologists, conservationists, environment activists and organizations from across the globe. People from different walks of life from all over India extended their support to this conservation movement led by Nature’s Beckon. But at the same time, there was a force constantly working against this rainforest conservation movement with their full might, they were against the protection of this 500sqkm of rainforest. This force tried all their tacit ways to dissuade, demoralize and crush the rainforest conservation movement of Assam. This is a collective force, constituting a handful of people propelled by greed and power of money, they don’t want this rainforest patch to ever get protected because for them this rich rainforest patch is an unbelievable source of their personal wealth. These are people who are involved in the exploitation of this rainforest patch of Upper Assam for coal, timber and crude oil illegally. They tried all means to resist Nature’s Beckon, like creating dissidence amongst the members of Nature’s Beckon, spreading fictious false news against Nature’s Beckon, threats and intimidations to dissuade the leadership of the organization, etc. They left no stone unturned to steal away the richest rainforest of Assam to satisfy their greed. Despite the manipulations, coercions and multilayered resistance from this negative force, Nature’s Beckon remained steadfast, the organization stood firm with its conviction to protect the 500sqkm of this rainforest as a wildlife sanctuary. The Rainforest conservation movement continued through all strives and trials; it grew stronger with the rolling time. On the other hand, the impediments also kept replicating. In 2003, the Government of Assam formulated the concept of Elephant reserves, which was a blatant lie of Forest department to fool the people of Assam. Elephant reserves have no legal sanctity, it does not provide any legal protection to forests as Wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks do in India. Hence, Elephant Reserves are accessible to Forest department for revenue collection and exploitation of the forest resources for any purpose. Elephant Reserves were created by the Forest department to hijack the forests of Assam from the ambit of true conservation measures. The entire rainforest patch of Upper Assam, including the 500sqkm proposed wildlife sanctuary was constituted as an Elephant reserve.
This was the highest level of manipulation perpetrated against the Rainforest conservation movement of Assam. This was an attempt to divert people’s attention and halt the conservation movement from protecting the 500sqkm of rainforest as a wildlife sanctuary. This was made possible due to the powerful nexus of the negative force posed against the protection and conservation of this rainforest patch of Assam, they utilized all possible means to steal this rainforest from the people of Assam. But to their utter disappointment, Nature’s Beckon unflinchingly carried the movement ahead with renewed vitality. The government of Assam was compelled to create Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in June 2004, it notified an area of 111.19sqkm out of the total 500sqkm of the proposed wildlife sanctuary. The government failed to protect the entire 500sqkm of contiguous rainforest patch, it purposefully left 388.81sqkm of the proposed wildlife sanctuary area which included the best part of Jeypore rainforest. The Government of Assam clearly proved their lack of political will to protect this rare natural heritage of Assam; they rather facilitated the future destruction of this pristine rainforest patch by excluding a huge chunk of the proposed wildlife sanctuary area from the ambit of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. This excluded portion consisted of the best part of the contiguous patch of rainforest of Upper Assam, which was hailed upon for legal protection, been strongly supported by several well-known scientific bodies at national and international levels. The rainforest conservation movement of Assam gave birth to the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary, the relentless efforts of Nature’s Beckon also gave rise to the green consciousness in the psyche of the people of the region. The rainforest conservation movement had to continue further; Nature’s Beckon continued its steer for the complete protection of the entire 500sqkm (as proposed) of this rainforest as a wildlife sanctuary. Nature’s Beckon intensified conservation work at grassroots level. Years of dedicated work followed the creation of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary; exchanges with the fringe communities empowered the villagers and other people living near this rainforest to act as its true custodians, these communities have been the saviors of this rainforest patch till date. Thence, the rainforest conservation movement took momentum by spreading its support base across the length and breadth of Assam.
The year 2020 saw rise of the second phase of the rainforest conservation movement of Assam. As if the upheaval of this fateful year was predestined, the year began with a slush of a social media campaign which alleged coal mining activities taking place inside the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. This social media campaign posed as environmental activism to the world was in reality a politically driven mis campaign which was against the cause of rainforest conservation. Nature’s Beckon came to the forefront to clear the confusion created by this mis campaign regarding the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. The real perpetrators behind this mis campaign are the same bunch of miscreants who resisted the creation of Dehing Patkai Willdife Sanctuary. They resorted to their old tactics of slandering and coercion yet again. Their greed to siphon the rich resources of this rainforest remained unchanged and so did the determination of Nature’s Beckon to defend it against all odds. This mis-campaign gave the people of Assam another chance to understand the existence of impending threats to the largest surviving rainforest patch of Assam, the negative force which once created hurdles for Nature’s Beckon in protecting the 500sqkm of contiguous rainforest patch is acting with full vigor even today. Their urge to grab these rich forests propelled them to this misadventure, but they had perhaps underestimated the strong resolve of Nature’s Beckon to protect 500sqkm of this rainforest at any cost. Nature’s Beckon is a collective front of people who truly love nature, people who came forward to work purely on a voluntary basis for the cause of biodiversity conservation motivated by their love for nature. Nature’s Beckon is driven by truth and this truth alone is their biggest strength. People of Assam are witness to the commitment of Nature’s Beckon through years, people of Assam and Northeastern India have been the center stage of the decades long work of Nature’s Beckon. In return, Nature’s Beckon has earned due respect and faith from the people of this region. The mis-campaigners definitely downplayed these facts, Nature’s Beckon launched the second phase of rainforest conservation movement with very strong support from well-known writers, poets, journalists, artists, actors, film makers, educationists and nature lovers of Assam. Though mired by the uncertainties of a pandemic, the fringe villagers came to forefront to raise their voices demanding the complete protection of 500sqkm of the rainforest. Nature’s Beckon demanded for area expansion of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary from 111.19sqkm to a total of 500sqkm and this must include the entire Jeypore Reserve forest in its domain. The erstwhile governments failed to do justice to the rainforest conservation movement of Assam, they could not honor the demand to protect the entire 500sqkm of contiguous rainforest patch of Assam, they purposefully didn’t include the Jeypore Reserve forest in the ambit of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. The Jeypore Resrve forest constitutes the best part of the closed canopy tropical rainforest cover of Upper Assam, this area is contiguous with the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. The Jeypore rainforest was left out of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary in pursuit to exploit its richness in the name of development viz; mining of coal, petroleum and wealth of timber. The conservation of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary will remain a distant dream till the entire Jeypore rainforest is not included in it. The Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is home to an amazing diversity of life forms starting from the traceless micro-organisms to few of the most highly evolved large terrestrial animals which ever roamed this planet, each species well adapted for their life in tropical rainforest, each species playing their exceptional role in sustaining the delicate balance of this intricate ecosystem. Nature’s Beckon has been observing and studying this rainforest for more than two decades, this continuous observation and study has revealed many hidden facts about this rainforest which was not known to the world so far. Nature’s Beckon has done extensive documentation of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary and the adjoining rainforest patch of Upper Assam. These documentations are the most reliable first-hand data regarding the biodiversity of this rainforest patch of Assam. Nestled amidst one of the most primeval wildernesses, the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary provides a safe haven to an astounding array of biodiversity. Nature’s Beckon has check listed 80 species of mammals, 380 species of wild birds, 107 species of reptiles, over 250 species of insects which includes numerous butterflies and more than 160 species of trees in this wildlife sanctuary. This contiguous lowland rainforest of Upper Assam is critically acclaimed for its rare bio-geographic significance, which owe the highest order of protection for its future conservation. Nature’s Beckon strengthened the rainforest conservation movement through the publication of valuable books, booklets and other educational materials to bring the people of Assam and the world closer to the astounding richness of this rainforest patch of Assam. Nature’s Beckon is committed to continue this educational movement for rainforest conservation in future.
As part of the second phase of rainforest conservation movement Nature’s Beckon submitted a fresh memorandum to the ruling State Government of Assam, reiterating the significance of protecting the entire 500sqkm of this rainforest. Nature’s Beckon staged its demand to include the complete Jeypore rainforest in the jurisdiction of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. The Jeypore Reserve Forest is contiguous with the 111.19sqkm Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary and Jeypore constitutes the richest part of this rainforest patch. The conservation of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary is practically not possible without including the pristine Jeypore rainforest in it. The timeless Jeypore rainforest with its lush canopy formed by the most luxuriant rainforest trees fatefully stands upon one of the most sought-after chunk of this rainforest, being impregnated with fossil fuels worth millions of rupees. This minerals and hydrocarbon rich earth beneath the Jeypore rainforest has been the root cause of unprecedented resistance to include the Jeypore rainforest in the ambit of wildlife sanctuary for so long. The stakes were rather too high for many to allow this part of the rainforest to get protected which brings an end to their long-dreamt aspirations of wealth and fortune. The conservation of the largest lowland tropical rainforest of Assam will remain a complete farce if the entire Jeypore rainforest is not protected. Nature’s Beckon stood with fringe communities in their demand to include the complete Jeypore rainforest in Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary. This second phase of rainforest conservation movement strongly urged the expansion of the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary from 111.19sqk to 500sqkm and this 500sqkm must include the entire area of Jeypore Reserve forest in its jurisdiction. The campaign was spear headed in all possible ways, the campaign trended on social media over platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram where youth, artists, musicians, actors, film makers, writers, poets, social workers, journalists, educationists, teachers, scientists, medical practitioners, people from all walks of society from different parts of Assam participated and extended their support to
The Chief minister of Assam, Shri Sarbananda Sonowal came forward with the assurance to upgrade the Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary into a national park. Nature’s Beckon welcomed the gesture, but at the same time the organization pointed out the importance of expanding the area of Dehing Patkai Wildlife Sanctuary to 500sqkm before upgrading it to a national park. Upgrading the existing 111.19sqkm Dehing Patkai Wildife Sanctuary to a national park will be a futile effort and won’t serve any purpose, it will be rather a mockery in the name rainforest conservation. Nature’s Beckon also urged that inclusion of the Jeypore Reserve forest in the Dehing Patkai National Park is of paramount importance, the organization will never negotiate in this regard.
The decades long rainforest conservation movement of Assam have come to a jubilant turn with the constitution of the Dehing Patkai National Park on 5th December 2020 with the preliminary notification issued by the State Government of Assam for the protection of 231.65sqkm of the contiguous patch of rainforest of Upper Assam including the entire area of Jeypore rainforest. The inclusion of Jeypore rainforest in its entirety in the National Park is undeniably a huge success for the rainforest conservation movement led by Nature’s Beckon. Nature’s Beckon remains committed to solicit protection to a total of 500sqkm of this rainforest patch of Assam in due course of time. The rainforest conservation movement will remain alive till 500sqkm of this rainforest does not get its due protection. The exemplary conviction and steadfast motivation of team Nature’s Beckon has proved to all that no matter what, truth still reigns amidst us through all trials and tribulations in our world. This unique rainforest conservation movement of Assam is in true sense a humanitarian movement where humane values took the forefront, human beings came together to fight for the cause of Nature, where human beings weighed down their individual needs and differences to demonstrate the inherent capacity to give and share, instead of grasping. This journey of the largest tropical rainforest of Assam from being a remote unheeded wilderness to that of a National Park with acclaimed worth is commendable. The creation of Dehing Patkai National Park is a matter of celebration for the entire world, we ought to raise a toast to every such initiative which seeks to protect the last surviving rainforests of the world. Assam witnessed one of the greatest humanitarian victories of our time in the creation of Dehing Patkai National Park. The rainforest conservation movement of Assam demonstrated the strength and relevance of compassion and non-violence to rest of the Nation. Let the triumph of this moment unite us all in a firm resolve to unfailingly honor the rich natural heritage of our planet and to carry forward this incredible culture of love and peace ahead.