ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Dehing Patkai National Park

Green Politics and Ecological Nationalism in Assam

Assam witnessed an unprecedented social media protest in the mid-2020 for the protection of the Dehing Patkai rainforest located in the eastern part of the state. This green movement was centred on the issue of legitimising illegal coal mining in the rainforest by the National Board for Wildlife during the nationwide lockdown. Tracing the journey of the national park, the present article argues that the controversy reflects the contradiction between the metropolitan and indigenous version of ecological nationalism. The latter, though instrumental for mass mobilisation in environmental movements, does not occupy adequate space in the electoral politics.

On 7 June 2021, the Government of Assam declared Dehing Patkai, with an area of 231.65 square kilometres (sq km) of land, as the seventh national park of the state. This decision was the outcome of a controversy that emerged in the middle of 2020, centred on the issue of coal mining in the rainforest region. In April 2020, amid the pandemic, the Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL), under the Ministry of Forest, Environment and Climate Change (MoFECC), approved a coal-mining project in the Saleki proposed reserve forest, which is a part of this rainforest. This decision of the government sparked a strong protest, in various social media platforms, by student communities, environmental activists, non-governmental organisation (NGO) activists and concerned general public, since coal-mining has a detrimental effect on the forest and the environment.

The term Dehing Patkai is derived from two entities: the river Dehing, a southern tributary of the Brahmaputra; and the Patkai hill range, which is braided by the same river. The rainforest is a part of the eastern Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, which is an amalgamation of a number of forests located in Assam-Arunachal border areas. These, also called the Assam Valley Wet Evergreen Forest or Holong Nahor Forest or Amazon of the East, are significant for three reasons. The rainforest is known for the biodiversity hotspot with its unique flora and fauna. The rich biodiversity includes diverse species such as slow loris, pig-tailed macaque, stump-tailed macaque, capped langur, Indian leopard, Asian elephant, royal Bengal tiger, gaur, Himalayan black bear, clouded leopard, barking deer, Chinese panglin and seven species of wild cats, 283 species of birds, 276 species of butterflies, 70 species of fish, 71 species of reptiles and 70 species of dragonflies (Ahmed 2020). The region is also a reservoir of mineral resources like coal and crude oil, and due to its geo-strategic location that separates India from upper Burma and southern China, it holds great significance.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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