PASIGHAT (By Maksam Tayeng ) The people of Mer village under Mebo Sub-Division here in East Siang District has resolved not to cede even an inch of community land for plantation purposes under an scheme of D.Ering-Dibru Saikhowa Elephant Corridor Project (DE-DSECP) of Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) which was on the process to be executed at Kotga area of the Mer village by Divisional Forest Officer (T), Pasighat Forest Division.
The Elephant Corridor Project of WTI which was being executed by DFO (T) Pasighat Forest Division is now marked with controversy and scandal after the villagers of Mer village have sternly opposed the project to be executed at the village community land and have decided not to cede even an inch of the community land for the purpose of plantation under the Elephant Corridor project. The stern opposition of the project came into light after the department of forest under Pasighat Forest Division willfully proposed a total of 1000 Hectares of village community land for the project without the knowledge and consent of the community.
The villagers were angry upon the forest department led by Tashi Mize, DFO (T), Pasighat Forest Division for trying to grab the village community land near Kotga area of the village adjacent to D. Ering WL Sanctuary while taking only six persons from the Mer village in the name of community and fixing deal with them of monetary and other benefits out of the project. Those six persons from the village were made members in a recently formed NGO named Kotga Gora Community Conserve Reserve (KGCCR) in which only 6-7 persons were taken as member from each village of Mer, Namsing and Paglam. The Pasighat forest division is carrying out the project by forming and using KGCCR, but community people of Mer, Namsing and Paglam villages were not included and taken into confidence while declaring the Kotga area of Mer village as Community Conserved Area (CCA). But in contrary the project was being carried out by a handful of people in the name and disguise of community initiative in nexus with the forest department officials and WTI, informed youths and PRI representatives from the Mer village. (Mer and Namsing villages are from East Siang and Paglam is from Lower Dibang Valley district which are settling near the D. Ering Memorial Wildlife Sanctuary).
It is worth mentioning here that, the villagers of Mer had conducted a village meeting on 5th April last on getting the information of community land of the village being attempted to be taken over by the Pasighat Forest Division while using KGCCR as this NGO doesn’t possess any land for community conserve reserve and these few people do not represent the whole community. In this regard, the villagers had also written to DFO Pasighat Forest Division including the PCCF & Prl. Secy. (E & F and Climate Change) and have urged them to stop the project. The village youths and PRI members of the village had also appealed to the Minister, Forest and Environments, Government of Arunachal Pradesh through two petitions on 20th and 25th April to direct the PCCF (HoFF) to stop the project which has flared up controversy and scandal in the area due to ill and poor management of the project by the concerned DFO, Pasighat Forest Division who have miserably failed to maintain the basic purpose of the elephant corridor project to achieve the cooperation and support of the community for easy passage of elephants between D. Ering Wildlife Sanctuary, Arunachal Pradesh and Dibru Saikhowa National Park, Assam.
Meanwhile, the villagers of Mer village had invited DFO, D. Ering Wildlife Sanctuary in a village meeting held on Friday, 29th April at the village community hall wherein the DFO was requested to hear the grievances of the villagers and forward their voice to the higher officials at Itanagar and WTI office at Noida. On their request, the DFO, DEWS, Tasang Taga along with Range Officers Domek Koyu, Orin Perme and others explained the villagers about the project and its objective. Taga said that the D. Ering-Dibru Saikhowa Elephant Corridor Project was officially proposed and initiated from the DEWS Division during the month of August 2016 vide office Memo No. DMS/DEV/44/06/435 dtd 27/08/2016 when the present DFO (T), Pasighat Forest Division, Tashi Mize was the DFO (WL) then. He also clarified to the villagers that the project is not carried out by the D. Ering WL Sanctuary division and is actually executed by the DFO (T), Pasighat Forest Division although the project was proposed from D. Ering WL Sanctuary division.
DFO DEWS also said that the basic purpose of the project was to involve the community in creating plantations and also to maintain the forest coverage of the village for smooth passage of elephants in the buffer zone of the DEWS. In order to gain the confidence and cooperation of the community with the sanctuary authority, the community people were to be provided with alternative livelihood sources/schemes through the Elephant Corridor Project. But by not involving the communities to win their confidence and cooperation, and instead, the handpicking of few individuals in the project to form an organization ‘KGCCR’ to carry out the project through them has now created chaos among the community people. Such false and wrong execution of important project where entire communities are turning hostile against the project and forest department, is also likely to hamper the larger and smooth wildlife conservation effort of management of D. Ering WL Sanctuary which is a serious concern, added Taga
Initially, in this connection the DFO DEWS had a several correspondences with the WTI seeking the details of the Elephant Corridor Project. In response to the one of DFO wildlife’s letter, WTI Chief, Vivek Menon had written back by saying that the WTI has no intention of bypassing the official procedure of the project to the present DFO D. Ering Memorial WL Sanctuary and also added that the all work in the area will be with the permission and guidance from the DFO (WL). Further WTI CEO had said in the same mail “If any earlier work happened with your predecessor if may only have been as he was the officer dealing with it in the past”. But despite Tashi Mize’s transfer out from the wildlife vision DEWS some 3 years ago in the territorial forest division, the elephant corridor project initiated from Wildlife division was taken over by Mize, DFO (T) without the knowledge of the DEWS division.
It is important to add here that a village meeting was again conducted at Mer village community hall on Saturday on the request of KGCCR members in connection with the denial of community land for the project. But again the village community vehemently denied giving of any land for the project though KGCCR leaders were trying to convince them. Citing example in mismanagement of funds in the project, the villagers have alleged that two fish ponds were dug/built at Mer village in the land of Gandhi Pangging, Gaon Burah, who is also a member in KGCCR. But he was paid only Rs. 10,000 for the land as compensation, whereas Rs. 80,000 was marked as paid against him in the record which was also personally confirmed by Pangging.
Apparently, the same KGCCR which was newly formed for the purpose of elephant corridor project was found indulged in writing complaint letter to Minister, Forest and Environments and PCCF against the incumbent DFO Wildlife, Tasang Taga for his immediate transfer out from the DEWS while falsely claiming that Taga is inefficient and public of fringe villages of the sanctuary are against him. But Eco-Development Committee of the Sanctuary which was formed long back during the time of Tashi Mize as DFO Wildlife in the year 2013-14 had to interfere in the matter to the concern Minister while explaining and exposing the entire hidden agenda of Mize and KGCCR, as they wanted Taga to be transferred out from the DEWS for their smooth taking over of the Elephant Corridor Project. Unfortunately, by the misleading of DFO (T) and KGCCR, some higher officials in the office of PCCF had also taken the side of Pasighat Forest Division and KGCCR to let the elephant corridor project to be executed by territorial division instead of wildlife division although it was proposed from DEWS.
But when head of the elephant corridor project from WTI, Sandeep Tiwari was asked for his comment on the entire episode of Mer village community denying land for the project and transfer of the wildlife division initiated project to the territorial forest division, he couldn’t give any specific answer and said that he will first discuss the matter with his team.
Hence the fate and success of this major wildlife projects is uncertain as community people were not taken along in the project although it was a community project where communities were to be involved. Such gross lacunae in the entire process and execution of the project raises the eyebrows of a larger possible conspiracy and scam in the project which conjoins Pasighat forest division, KGCCR, PCCF office and WTI as this project is said to be involving huge funding from WTI routed/extended from foreign agencies too