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Green awardee trampling on the green

At the prestigious India Today PSU Awards 2014, the Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) was awarded the ‘Most Eco-Friendly Public Sector Unit (PSU) in the Miniratna category. It was stated that the award assumes a great deal of significance since the selection process included all the 229 PSUs nationwide in the fray and is, therefore, a befitting recognition of the innovative, sincere and dedicated efforts of the company towards preservation and conservation of the ecology and the environment.

A year later NRL was once again in news—this time for sending rare and Scheduled I species to death throes! The anti-conservation strategy and gross violation of environmental norms by the company drew flak from all quarters and taking cognizance of the serious violations, the Principal Bench of the National Green Tribunal has ordered impleading the NRL as a respondent in the Original Application No.38/2011 (Rohit Choudhury versus Union of India and Others) and Miscellaneous Application (MA) No. 787/2015 in connection with the issue of illegal boundary wall constructed by the NRL on the elephant corridor in the “No Development Zone” of the Proposed Deopahar Reserve Forest.

Deopahar is an important elephant habitat and the erection of the wall across the elephant corridor turned out to be a physical barrier for the pachyderms. Elephants, especially calves, as they try to cross over to and from the hilly terrain of the forest, slip off to their death inside the wall. More than 10 elephants died since 2011 in the ‘trap’ constructed by the green company!


Destruction of forest cover by NRL for Golf Course.
Photo source: Forest Department



Intervention in critical habitat

With a view to achieving the targeted 33% of the forest cover in the plains and 60% in the hills under the National Forest Policy (1998), the Government of Assam declared the Deopahar forest in the Golaghat district as a Proposed Reserve Forest on 18/08/99 with an area of 133.45 hectares and appointed the Deputy Commissioner (DC) of Golaghat as Forest Settlement Officer (FSO). The notification was published in Assam Gazette dated 13/9/99. This gesture of the Government of Assam was hailed by one and all because the declaration came at a critical juncture as the district was going through a massive eco-disaster with almost 93% of its total reserve forest areas (excluding the Kaziranga National Park) were in the throes of destruction.  In such a situation there was every need to elevate this important patch of forest to the status of a Reserve Forest, but for reasons unknown, Deopahar continued with the status of a PRF to be encroached upon by booming industries.


Video source: Forest Department

Deopahar, which was handed over to    the forest department by the civil administration of Golaghat in 1968, is a small hill with an area of 134 hectares near Numaligarh, in Golaghat district. The notification show this stretch of forest land bounded by the Numaligarh tea estate and the Numaligarh garden road in the northern side while the NH 39 approach the hill from the south-western side. The Kalioni hills and part of Rajgarh lies to its east. Known for its archeological heritage since the ancient period of Assam history, Deopahar hosts unique biological diversity.

Dr Padmeshwar Gogoi, environmentalist and retired head of the Department of Botany, Devraj Roy College, documented a treasure of medicinal plants in Deopahar —Amul (Horsfieldia kingii),arjun (Terminalia arjuna), amlokhi (P.emblica), nephaphu (C. colebrookianum), mejankri (Litsea cubeba), sarpagandha (Rauvolfia serpentina  Benth.), bhajaguti, bohera, to different bamboo varieties, orchids and ferns. The forest’s upper and middle wooden canopy has wide ranging variety—Poma (Cedrela toona Roxb)), Gomari (Gmelina arborea), Som (P.bombycina), Bheleu (Tetramilos nodiflora), Uriam (Bischofia javanica), Nahor (Mesua ferrea), Hilikha (T.chebula Retz.), Seleng (Sapium baccatum Roxb.), Owtenga (Dillenia indica), Nagabheh (Schima wallichii), Paroli (Sterospermum chelonoides), Sopa (Michelia champaca), Morhal (Vatica lanceaefolia), Jatipoma (Cedrela febrifuga),Lali (Walsura robusta Roxb.), Holokh (Terminalia myriocarpa Heurck) etc.


Photo source: Forest Department

Apart from housing some rare cat species, reptiles, butterflies, local and migratory birds, the presence of wild bee hives on the Bheleu trees show signs of its pristine environment. After the massive destruction of the Nambor Reserve Forest, the oldest in the State--a few Hoolock gibbon families, otherwise marooned in the fragmented habitats in and around Nambor, found a safe refuge in Deopahar. Deopahar became an important transit for the animals migrating to and from Karbi Anglong to Kaziranga. This patch of forest now provides shelter to some 200-300 wild elephants.

Telgaram, where the Numaligarh Refinery is situated, is known for its elephant habitations. This area once served as a transit for elephants in between Kaziranga and Karbi Anglong. With the establishment of NRL in Telgaram in the 90s, elephant depredation reached an alarming proportion. Incidents of man-elephant conflict only increased over the years resulting in casualties on both sides. To make matters worse, NRL brought into its possession a stretch of Deopahar PRF (interestingly the part of the PRF was sold to NRL by the Jorhat-based Numaligarh TE) and tried to secure it by constructing a boundary wall, 2 km in stretch, on this traditional elephant corridor. The illegal boundary wall became a huge physical barrier for the elephants blocking their normal movement. In a number of cases baby elephants got trapped inside these erections and were separated from the herd. The pachyderms were even seen hitting at the walls trying to get rid of these obstructions.

Further, the wall was constructed inside the “No Development Zone” violating the norms of the National Green Tribunal. As per NDZ notification, the expansion of industrial area, townships, infrastructure and such other activities which could lead to pollution and congestion shall not be allowed within the NDZ.  The NOC issued for the old NRL town ship by MoEF vide DO No.J-11014//91-1A.II, 18 -01-1994 prohibits use of hill slopes, forest area and states that no organized human settlement in the hill or the areas adjoining the hill at least in a radius of 10 km be allowed.  It appears that the NRL might have hidden these facts while applying for the extra land. The expansion of NRL town area has been another cause of concern that has become a threat to the elephant habitat in the Deopahar fringe. Moreover the use of high voltage lights, heavy construction equipments and vehicles day and night in the immediate vicinity of the PRF is causing disturbance to the pachyderm population.

The Divisional Forest Officer, Golaghat Mutthu Kumar Ravel said that he issued a letter no. B/13/ NRL Const/1295-98 dated 02/05/15 asking the NRL authority, Guwahati to take immediate action and remove the barrier constructed illegally that is blocking the normal movement of elephants in the area. Even after the issuing of the letters, NRL is yet to comply with the instruction of the Forest Department. On the other hand, continuing with its anti-conservation activities, NRL of late has cleared huge stretch of forest land in the “no development zone” of the Deopahar PRF for developing a golf course. In this connection, the Golaghat Forest Division appointed Santanu Barua, ACF, (vide order no 38 dated 20/05/15) to conduct a detailed inquiry into the illegal clearing of forest area and illegal cutting and mining of earth/hillocks in the forest fringe. Although there was an earlier approval for operating (felling) certain numbers of trees in a restricted area, however, after the receipt of the  Environment Clearance by the State Level  Environment Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA) the same was withdrawn later (before the final approval) due to violations (Letter No- B/32/PP/2685-92 dated 23/10/14). Recently, another letter was issued to the NRL management in this regard (Letter No-B/13/NRL-Const/1302-1305 dated 02/05/15).
The land acquired by the NRL is in clear violation of the established laws, rules and conditions. Further the areas in questions were serving as a critical wildlife corridors and part of a larger ecosystem and catchment.

DFO Kumar further stressed: “while there exists a number of alternatives for NRL, the loss of such critical forests, animal corridors, biodiversity and ecosystem cannot be recreated.  Rather the NRL should have developed a wasteland and build its township and definitely not by destroying forests, corridors and ecosystem at the cost of the state as well as present and future generations”.


Elephant enter at NRL Township

 

Industrial impact

There is no denying the fact that for an industrially impoverish state like Assam, there is every need to boost industrial growth. However, the rush to boost industrial growth rode roughshod over long-term environmental concerns as much of the investments are now on polluting industries like coke and cement, oil and gas extraction. In a biodiversity rich state like Assam, indiscriminate licensing of polluting industries already showed signs of grave environmental consequences.  Excessive burning of natural gas, rampant use of pesticides in the seemingly non hazardous tea industry has brought Assam’s geographical identification—the cultivation and production of the golden Muga-- to almost half of what the state produced 20 years back.

While the damaging impact of the polluting industries is felt more in the tea-oil-gas rich upper Assam districts where agriculture and environment had been adversely affected, the so called People’s Refinery that was born out of the Assam Accord after six long years of struggle, is bulldozing its way to spell doom to a critical habitat in the Kaziranga and Karbi-Anglong landscape. The natural eco-systems are complex and sensitive, where each species has a role and is symbiotically dependent on other species. With destruction of forest cover and cutting and mining of hillocks, NRL has already inflicted irreparable damage to Deopahar changing the topography of the area known for its rich and endemic biodiversity.

Photo: Samarjit Sharma

Author info

Mubina Akhtar's picture

Journalist, activist based in Guwahati. Email: newildflowers@gmail.com

Comments

Jayanta Kumar Das's picture

This happens in Assam. Any body with high links could manage presigious environmental awards.Government of Assam must take immediate steps to dismantle the walls and declare Deopahar as the Reserce Forest.Its time people of Assam come forward for the protection of wild animals and birds.

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AGP strike on Sept 11

7 Sep 2014 - 10:34am | AT News
Asom Gana Parishad leaders and workers will stage hunger strike on September 11 to mount pressure on Delhi and Dispur to implement the Assam Accord. Party leaders told Assam Times that the hunger 8 hours strike will begin at 8 in the morning in all district and sub divisional headquarters. The party has alleged that the Modi government who promised to detect and deport the immigrants after May 26, of late, has maintained studied silence on the issue. Interstate border dispute, and price rise are the vital issues to be raised in the strike.

Feed People, Not Cars: We Need a Moratorium on Agrofuels

31 Oct 2007 - 3:26am | editor

Just a month before December 2007 UN Conference on Climate Change opens in Bali, Yifat Susskind has linked research on agrofuels to his suggestion, demonstrating the serious dangers associated with agrofuel production. Yet, Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, recently proposed that we impose a moratorium on the development of agrofuels, an idea that has generated controversy in some circles.

With biofuels being touted as our best great hope to undo climate change, it would be easy to ask yourself, "What's not to like?" Biofuels, proponents claim, will counter our global dependence on fossil fuels and help curb carbon emissions. But this "greening" of our energy sources is not all that green. A growing group of human rights and environmental activists point to the dangers that biofuels pose to environmental sustainability and the livelihoods of communities around the world, and call for a major shift: a moratorium on biofuels.

Most of the policies being put forward envision substituting biofuels for fossil fuels without reducing our overall consumption of energy. These proposals are backed by agribusiness, biotech companies, and oil interests that are now investing billions in ethanol and biodiesel plants, plantations of soy, corn, sugarcane, and palm oil, as well as genetically engineered trees and microbes for future supplies of cellulosic ethanol.

The prefix "bio" suggests that "biofuels" are natural, renewable, and safe—an appealing thought to those concerned with the toxic and unsustainable use of fossil fuels. But agrofuels (as they are known in Latin America) are not easily renewable because the Earth's landmass is itself a finite resource. To produce even seven percent of the energy that the US currently gets from petroleum would require converting the country's entire corn crop to ethanol.

If we don't reduce the demand for energy by consuming less, we risk a scenario in which most of the Earth's arable land will be dedicated to growing "fuel crops" instead of food crops. People concerned about this danger use the term agrofuels to highlight the impact that biofuels have on the world's food supply. Growing agrofuels on a mass scale is already jacking up food prices, depleting soil and water supplies, destroying forests, and violating the rights of Indigenous and local people in areas newly designated as "biofuel plantations." Agrofuels are a false solution to climate change because they:

Violate Land Rights: Agrofuel plantations in Brazil and Southeast Asia are being created on the territories of Indigenous Peoples who have traditionally lived in and protected these ecosystems. Indigenous Peoples and local subsistence farmers—most of whom are women—are being displaced. People are being forced to give up their land, way of life, and food self-sufficiency to grow fuel crops for export. Often, plantation workers face abuse, harsh working conditions, and exposure to toxic pesticides. In Brazil, some soy farms rely on debt peonage workers—essentially modern-day slaves.

Worsen Hunger: Agrofuel expansion threatens to divert the world's grain supply from food to fuel. We know that when economic demand increases, costs rise. That means staple foods like corn will become more expensive. Already in June 2007, the United Nations reported that, "soaring demand for biofuels is contributing to a rise in global food import costs." The principle of supply and demand also means that less people will grow food because "fuel crops" will be worth more. Already, small-scale farmers in Colombia, Rwanda, and Guatemala feel compelled by global trade rules to grow luxury crops such as flowers and coffee for export while their families go hungry. Given the amount of land that would be required to "grow" enough fuel to maintain the global economy, the threat of worsening hunger and land rights abuses is grave. According to the Rainforest Action Network, the crops required to make enough biofuel to fill a 25-gallon SUV tank could feed one person for a year.

Worsen Global Warming: Agrofuels don't necessarily reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming—especially if they are produced in unsustainable ways. For example, currently, the most common method of turning palm oil into fuel produces more carbon dioxide emissions than refining petroleum. Agrofuel production has made Indonesia (where 40 percent of the population does not have electricity) the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

Worsen Deforestation and Threaten Biodiversity: Corporate plans for expanding biofuel production involve destroying forests and other ecosystems to create massive plantations that rely on chemical fertilizers and toxic pesticides to maximize production. Monoculture (single crop) plantations of soy and palm oil are being established in the rain forests and grasslands of Asia and South America, threatening some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on Earth. Clear-cutting forests to plant agrofuels also adds to warming by eliminating carbon-absorbing forests.

Why is Energy a Women's Issue? In most of the Global South, women are responsible for collecting household fuel for cooking, lighting, and other family needs. Most of this energy is derived from natural resources such as wood, charcoal, or dung. When fuel is made scarce—for example, by deforestation or drought—women's and girls' workloads increase sharply. In some communities, women spend many hours a day collecting fuel.

So What's the Alternative? Jean Ziegler, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food has called for a five-year ban on agrofuel expansion. A moratorium on the conversion of land for agrofuel production should be accompanied by the development of new energy technologies that do not compromise global food security.

We need sustainable solutions to climate change, not corporate solutions that seek to simply shift our energy addiction from one resource to another. We need to consume less, not just differently, and steer clear of solutions that would expand the reach—and all the pitfalls—of industrialized agriculture. Creative and practical solutions for meeting our energy requirements—including some local, sustainable biofuel programs—are being developed around the world. We can support proposals for developing sustainable renewable energy sources, while recognizing the need to reduce overall consumption and protect human rights—including everyone's basic right to food.

Yifat Susskind

The author is MADRE's Communications Director. MADRE is an international women's human rights organization. More information about MADRE's Food for Life Campaign can be found at madre.org


[Citizen News Service]

Demonitazation effects trade fair

4 Dec 2016 - 9:16pm | Shajid Khan

The post demonitazation woes continue to surround every business segments of the society. The exhibitors of the ongoing national trade fair at the Bordoloi Bhawan premises of Tangla registered their grievances when this correspondent visited them. The trade fair which has kick started from December 2 and will continue till December 15 has nearly 50 stalls. The trade fair has been organised by an Non-Governmental organisation NEECO .

A considerable regional organisations representing different states of the country are debuting in the fair. Ranging from winter clothing, jewellery, cosmetics, kitchen wares, footwear, home decors, toys, gaming products, handicraft and handloom products stalls are on display. "We sell Kashmir handloom products from normal winter shawls to costly Pashmina shawls ranging from Rs. 400-10,000. Our sales have been effected by the demonitazation. Owing to it we are still accepting the scrapped demonitized notes.", said Sheikh Riyaz a stall owner.

"We are not accepting old scrapped notes as to avoid the hassle of depositing them in banks. The sales have been hit after demonetization ", said a handloom products stall owner Tankeswar Deka.

While Tanvir Ahmed who has stall of blankets ,curtains and Rajasthani footwears said ,"As our buisiness have registered loss post demonitazation we are still accepting banned 500 notes but not 1000 ."

Another stall owner of Radhakrishna Pickle store from Kolkatta Sujit Sen said,"We are facing shortage of lower denomination notes as we are not accepting scrapped notes. And most people give Rs.2000 rupees notes. Another stall owner from Kolkatta exhibiting tangail and tant sarees is also facing shortage of lower denomination notes.

However the eatery stalls said that though the sale is low,but people mostly pay in power denomination notes.