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Elephant Herd Enters Assam Refinery Township as Court Stays Demolition of Wall Obstructing Their Path

Assam-based environmentalist Rohit Choudhury, who had approached NGT in August 2015, is not pleased with the High Court order, calling it a ‘calculated move’ by the district administration.

Karishma Hasnat | CNN-News18

Updated:September 5, 2018, 1:34 PM IST

Guwahati: A herd of about 70-80 elephants entered the Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NRL) premises on Tuesday evening through the partially demolished wall of the public sector oil company that 'falls within the proposed Deopahar Reserve Forest' in Assam's Golaghat district.

A chaotic situation prevailed as people tried to chase away the herd while a few angry tuskers charged at the crowd. The incident comes a day after the Gauhati High Court imposed a stay order on the complete demolition of the NRL boundary wall and said that status quo be maintained.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had dismissed a review petition by the refinery last month and ordered that the entire wall of the new extension township be demolished as it falls within Deopahar, a forested belt that serves as a traditional route for elephants and other wild animals moving out of Kaziranga National Park and comes within the ‘No-Development Zone’.

On March 13, officials of the refinery brought down only a 289-meter stretch of the 2.2 kilometre concrete wall despite the NGT, in 2016, ordering the complete demolition of the wall within a month.

Assam-based environmentalist and RTI activist, Rohit Choudhury who had approached the tribunal in August 2015 is not pleased with the High Court development, calling it a ‘calculated move’ by the district administration. He is, however, hopeful that after hearing all parties, the High Court will order demolition of the entire boundary wall of the new extension township of Numaligarh Refinery Limited.

“Even as I was waiting for the one month period to get over, I was not very hopeful that NRL would demolish the boundary wall on its own. As the refinery has already been exposed for grabbing land in Deopahar in connivance with the office of the Deputy Commissioner, Golaghat, there was not many expectations from either the refinery or the district administration,” said Choudhury.

Expressing his resentment against the state government for not even taking steps to declare Deopahar as a reserve forest, Choudhury said that the notification of Deopahar Proposed Reserve Forest was pushed long back in 1999. Also, it was revealed during the 2016 NGT judgment that ‘the wall is causing disturbance in free movement of elephants and that it was constructed on the land notified for proposed Deopahar RF’.

He added, “Since the wall has come up in the area, incidents of human–elephant conflict have seen an increasing trend. It has turned the elephants a little violent and incidents of retaliation by poor farmers was also noticed.”

In May 2015, an elephant died of ‘severe hemorrhage’ after it hit against the wall. Many such incidents have since been captured on camera of elephants trying to cross the boundary wall in despair.

The office of Golaghat Deputy Commissioner wrote to the Managing Director of NRL on August 23, 2018 citing an NGT order and requesting the authorities to take immediate steps for compliance within August 29, 2018.

A copy of the letter marked as ‘Time Bound and Topmost Urgent’ was also sent to the Golaghat Superintendent of Police, the Sub-Divisional Officer (Civil), Bokakhat and the Divisional Forest Officer, Golaghat ‘for information and necessary action’.

“The Assam government already delayed the execution of NGT order (August 24, 2016) by two years. And both NRL and state government have again failed to comply with the NGT order in scheduled time. After August 29, they should have demolished the wall. Failing to do so invites action under Section 26/27 of the NGT Act on the Managing Director of NRL and under Section 28 on the State Chief Secretary, Deputy Commissioner of Golaghat, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) and Head of Forest Force (HoFF) among others,” said Choudhury.

The high wall with barbed wire and razor edge fencing was built for the company’s housing estate. While environmentalists continue to fight for the sake of elephants in Kaziranga, the next date of hearing is scheduled for October 31, 2018.

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| Edited by: Sanchari Chatterjee
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