Mer village not to cede community land for elephant corridor project

PASIGHAT, 3 May: The people of Mer village in Mebo subdivision of East Siang district have resolved not to cede “even an inch of community land for plantation purposes” for the D Ering-Dibru Saikhowa Elephant Corridor Project (DE-DSECP) of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), which was in the process of being executed in Kotga area of Mer village by the divisional forest officer (T) of the Pasighat forest division.

The villagers are strongly opposed to the elephant corridor project of the WTI, which was being executed by the Pasighat forest division’s DFO (T) on the village’s community land.

As per claims made by the villagers, the Pasighat forest division willfully proposed a total of 1,000 hectares of village community land for the project, without the knowledge and consent of the community.

The villagers are reportedly angry with the forest department, led by Pasighat Forest Division DFO (T) Tashi Mize, for allegedly “trying to grab the village community land near Kotga area of the village,” adjacent to D Ering wildlife sanctuary, “taking only six persons from Mer village in the name of community and fixing a deal with them of monetary benefits out of the project.”

Those six persons were made members of a recently formed NGO named Kotga Gora Community Conserve Reserve (KGCCR), which reportedly comprises only six to seven persons as members from Mer, Namsing and Paglam villages.

The Pasighat forest division is allegedly carrying out the project by forming and using the KGCCR and excluding the community people of Mer, Namsing and Paglam villages while declaring the Kotga area of Mer village as a community conserved area (CCA).

The villagers had written to the Pasighat forest division DFO, the PCCF and the environment & forests and climate change principal secretary, and urged them to stop the project.

The youths and panchayat members of the village had also appealed to the environment & forests minister through two petitions on 20 and 25 April to direct the PCCF (HoFF) to stop the project.

Meanwhile, the villagers of Mer invited the D Ering Wildlife Sanctuary (DEWS) DFO to a village meeting held on 29 April in the village community hall, where the DFO was requested to hear the grievances of the villagers and forward their voice to the higher officials in Itanagar and the WTI office in Noida.

At their request, DEWS DFO Tasang Taga along with Range Officers Domek Koyu, Orin Perme and others explained to the villagers about the project and its objective.

Taga said that the elephant corridor project was officially proposed and initiated by the DEWS division in August 2016 (vide office Memo No DMS/DEV/44/06/435, dated 27/08/2016), when the present DFO (T) Tashi Mize was the DFO (WL).

He clarified to the villagers that the project is not being carried out by the DEWS division and is actually being executed by the DFO (T), Pasighat forest division, although the project was proposed by the DEWS division.

The DEWS DFO 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.”

On the allegations of wrong execution of important projects, he said that “entire communities 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.”

It is important to add here that a village meeting was again conducted in the Mer village community hall last Saturday, at the request of KGCCR members, in connection with the denial of community land for the project.

However, the village community vehemently refused to give any land for the project.