Centre likely to soon notify Dibang tiger reserve

ByJayashree N, New Delhi
Mar 29, 2023 12:42 AM IST

The Union environment ministry will soon notify the Dibang Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh, officials from National Tiger Conservation Authority confirmed.

The Union environment ministry will soon notify the Dibang Tiger Reserve in Arunachal Pradesh, officials from National Tiger Conservation Authority confirmed, a development that makes it even less likely that the deferred Etalin hydropower project will be developed in the way it was originally envisaged -- but the indigenous Idu Mishmi people, who were opposed to the hydropower project aren’t very keen on the tiger reserve either.

The Centre said the reserve will boost tourism in Dibang Valley district. (Shutterstock)
The Centre said the reserve will boost tourism in Dibang Valley district. (Shutterstock)

Once notified, Dibang will be India’s first high altitude tiger reserve and the largest in terms of area, at 4149 sq km, the environment ministry said. The Idu Mishmi are worried that naming Dibang a tiger reserve will restrict their access to the reserve.

On the occasion of 50 years of Project Tiger, NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority) chief, SP Yadav said that there are 53 tiger reserves in the country and many more will be added to the list soon. “For example, Guru Ghasidas in Chhattisgarh and Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh will be notified very soon,” Yadav said during a press briefing on March 24.

In response to a queries from HT on why Dibang is being considered for a tiger reserve tag, the environment ministry said: “In 2013-14, for the purpose of assessment of tiger population, a preliminary rapid survey was carried out by the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) in collaboration with NTCA, which confirmed the presence of tigers, and sizable diversity and abundance of prey populations. This preliminary study was carried out after the rescue of tiger cubs from Angrim Valley during December 2012. The rescued tiger cubs were the first-ever record of a tiger from the Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary.”

Tiger number assessment has not been done in the entire landscape though. The proposal to notify Dibang Tiger Reserve is pending with the state government.

The All India Tiger estimation exercise in 2018 also revealed the presence of 2 adult tigers . Dibang Wildlife Sanctuary has international borders in the north, east and west. The sanctuary is crisscrossed by several rivers and rivulets, which are the tributaries of Brahmaputra, and it is nestled in the Eastern Himalaya Biodiversity hotspot. Other than tigers, the sanctuary harbours several endemic and globally threatened mammalian and avian species including takin, serow, gora, barking deer, Asiatic golden cat, marbled cat, and leopard cat according to the Status of Tigers, Co-predators and Prey in India 2018 report that recommended naming Dibang a tiger reserve.

“Considering the importance of tiger conservation in the state and in the country, the proposed tiger reserve will be largest in terms of area, besides being one of focal points as the only high-altitude tiger reserve in the country. This will generate curiosity amongst researchers; tourists (international or domestic) to visit such areas with the improvement of the road/internet communication network in and around Anini, Dibang Valley district. that the place will be a much sought after tourist destination in the country in future,” the ministry added in responses to HT.

Several hydropower projects are planned in the Dibang Sub Basin of the Brahmaputra Valley including the 3097 MW Etalin Hydropower Project in Dibang Valley, near the Dibang wildlife sanctuary which is facing stiff opposition from indigenous people. HT reported on January 18 that the Forest Advisory Committee of the union environment ministry has asked the Arunachal Pradesh government to go back to the drawing board on the Etalin Hydroelectric project proposal.

Bringing at least a temporary relief to conservationists and indigenous communities who had been opposing the project since 2020, FAC said the proposal cannot be considered in its present form .

The proposal which involved diversion of 1165.66 ha of forest land and felling of over 2.8 lakh trees in dense subtropical, evergreen, broadleafed- and subtropical rainforest according to a fact sheet submitted to FAC (which has to sign off on the project) on April 21, 2020 has been in the midst of controversy mainly because of environmental and biodiversity loss related concerns raised by experts.

But, the Idu Mishmi people are not in support of declaring Dibang WLS a tiger reserve either. This despite the fact that notifying the landscape as a tiger reserve will offer greater legal protection from projects.

Ambika Aiyadurai in her 2016 research paper titled: ‘Tigers are Our Brothers’: Understanding Human-Nature Relations in the Mishmi Hills, Northeast India’ which has been cited by NTCA also in its 2018 tiger estimation report, said Mishmi people living on the Sino-India border claim tigers to be their brothers and take credit for tiger protection as they observe taboos against hunting tigers.

“There is no need to declare Dibang Tiger Reserve. Local people conserve tigers and other biodiversity here. There is no need for the state to interfere in conservation techniques. All big cats are sacred to us. They cannot be killed unless in self-defense and if a tiger is killed then it is as huge a sin as killing a human being. I think the benefits of declaring Namdapha and Kamlang as tiger reserves need to be studied well before considering notifying Dibang. It can go against local sentiment and way of life here,” said Anoko Mega, environmentalist and member of Idu Mishmi community.

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