The recommendation of the National Board for Wild Life (NBWL) for a realigned road through India’s easternmost tiger reserve is seen as a necessary evil to connect a strategic settlement on the border with Myanmar.
Environment and tiger experts said the road could help save the banks of the river Noadihing used as a shortcut by locals and porters to move through the 1,985 sq. km. Namdapha Tiger Reserve in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh.
They also said the road could improve patrolling in the reserve, 90% of which is inaccessible and thus not monitored by an understaffed team of forest guards.
The foundation stone for a two-lane road connecting the Vijoynagar border settlement and Sub-Divisional Headquarters Miao was laid in 2013 following a proposal by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. The total length of the road is 156 km with 100.5 km passing through the reserve.
The project did not progress beyond periodic maintenance of an old track as ecologists flagged the road as a bad idea for Namdapha, which is a meeting point of Himalayan, Indo-Burmese and Indo-Chinese flora and fauna.
The Standing Committee of the NBWL had in its 57th meeting on April 7 discussed a proposal for approving the realignment at two stretches of the Miao-Vijoynagar Road. The State government had suggested the realignment “to ensure negotiable condition of road for effective implementation of Tiger Conservation Plan (TCP)” in Namdapha.
Soumitra Das Gupta, the Inspector-General of Forest (Wildlife) told the committee that realignment would reduce the road length by 11.88 km to 88.62 km resulting in a net gain of an area of 7.616 hectares due to shortening of the road.
Relocation of tribe
“The proposed alignment will provide the opportunity for creating anti-poaching camp and watchtower facilities nearby the habitations of Lisu community residing in the reserve so that necessary check can be kept on poaching till the relocation of this community outside,” the committee was told.
A majority of the Lisu people, called Yobin in India, live in Myanmar. They have traditionally survived on hunting.
Dev Prakash Bankhwal, the former regional head of National Tiger Conservation Authority, favoured a realistic appraisal of area under Yobin encroachment toward encouraging them for joint management.
“They should all be huddled in one part of the 1,985 sq km, instead of being scattered across seven-eight locations, even if it comes to 50-60 sq. km., which is not a bad deal. That area should be taken out of the park for better coexistence,” he told The Hindu .
He advocated a single-lane road that would suffice for only 4,438 people in Vijoynagar, a few villagers and the forest staff. “Wider road will lead to hill-cutting, which is not advised. The road, however, will not be of much use if a suspension bridge facilitating movement of two-wheelers is not made across the Noadihing,” he said.
“The road is a necessary evil for Namdapha. Without it, people carrying commodities on their heads or on elephant back have been taking a shorter route along the fragile banks of the Noadihing. This has led to disturbance of the river ecosystem, which is crucial for the park,” said Guwahati-based wildlife biologist Firoz Ahmed, who was involved in the first photographic monitoring of tiger in Namdapha eight years ago.
“The road has to be all-weather to minimise repair and resultant disturbance of animals,” he added.