The Lives & Livelihood of Dekhing Patkai & Dibang Valley-Rethinking Environment and Development
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
The Ongoing Calamity
Throughout the world, life as we know it has stopped, thanks to the corona-virus outbreak which is ceaselessly wreaking havoc on the lives of people and countries. If we go back in time and try to determine the exact reason for this deadly pandemic to break out, it can be observed that the wet markets in Wuhan selling wildlife alongside seafood are to be blamed. Studies point out that the $300 billion global wildlife trade perpetuates corona-viruses that are highly prevalent in wild animals which then enter into the human food chain.
Leaving ethical dilemmas aside, this article tries to make a case for the pressing need for animals, the wildlife and the environment to survive and thrive - because it is high time we humans realize that our life is intricately linked and dependent on the environs and the wild denizens it inhabits. The nature and scale of another pandemic or any other calamity can only be imagined if we, as a civilization, do not take any concrete steps to protect it now.
In India, environmental issues are generally championed only by a select group of conservationists and a few concerned citizens. Neither the mainstream media nor the masses seem to accord them their due respect and attention. While a single horrific elephant tragedy does manage to grab eyeballs, ecological issues of much greater importance like deforestation, pollution, the government mindlessly giving clearances to environmentally sensitive projects, wildlife abuse and trade largely go unnoticed.
Projects of Concern: Lives & Livelihoods Affected
A case in point being the ‘Etalin Hydropower project’ in the pristine Dibang valley of Arunachal Pradesh. The fate of Dibang valley, which is one of the richest bio-geographical zones in the northeastern Himalayas, hangs in balance as the Forest Advisory Committee (FAC) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEFCC), Govt. of India remains undecided for now on going ahead with the 3097 MW Etalin Hydropower project. The project is stalled on the grounds of economic viability and high tariffs but effectively dismisses warnings on the irreversible ecological damage that it can render if the project is undertaken. The project would require felling of over 2.7 lakh trees in the region that is home to 21 species of mammals (also, the endangered tiger) and over 230 species of birds besides other plants and animals.
The existence of the indigenous Idu Mishmi tribal community that for centuries has lived in harmony with the environs of the Dibang valley would also be directly threatened because of such ill-planned development works. Should development take place at the cost of the harmony of the tribal groups?
A similar story that calls for attention is that of coal mining by Coal India Limited in 98.59 hectares of land belonging to the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve. The National Board for Wildlife readily cleared this project located in the ‘Amazon of the east – Dehing Patkai region’ that houses – 47 species of mammals and reptiles each, 293 bird species including people of the native Assamese tribes like Tai Phake, Khamyang, Khamti, Moran, Ahom, Muttack, and Nepali- whose mere survival becomes compromised because of such projects.
What is the legislature doing?
Matters are made worse by the changes proposed to the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) notification 2020. Besides many, a major repercussion of this notification being enacted is that it will lead to 14 new types of development projects being exempted from stakeholder consultations. So, projects involving the likes of biomedical waste treatment, effluent treatment, construction of national highways could be cleared without undergoing any strict scrutiny.
It seems ironical that such grave environmental concerns are arising in the reign of Prime minister Modi, who in 2018 was bestowed with the United Nations highest environmental honor – the ‘Champions of the Earth’ award. Economic development needs to happen but not at the cost of environmental damage. Hope it does not take another pandemic for us to realize this fact!
About the Author:
Nikita is a bookaholic. She has a niche for writing. Outside the room, she loves to spend her time amongst the nature. A travel buff who loves trekking and exploring new places. Playing badminton is one of her favourite pastime.
She was a fellow for SBI youth for India where she worked on a rural literacy project for women in some villages of Khandwa district in Madhya Pradesh.