On 7 November 2016 when Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonwal laid the foundation of Baba Ramdev’s Rs 1000-crore Patanjali herbal and mega food park, which the yoga guru claimed would generate employment opportunities in Assam, barely did anyone realise that this will come at the cost of the area’s rich wildlife.
It’s been about two weeks and the catastrophic outcomes are out there already, killing one elephant and leaving two others injured after they fell into a deep pit at the construction site on 23 November.
Situated in the Ghoramari area of Assam’s Sonitpur district, the project site, according to environment activists, is an animal corridor and using it for industrial purpose would be detrimental for the wild animals.
“The entire vicinity of the proposed site is surrounded by the Kaziranga National Park which ascertains that it cannot be used for industraial purpose under any circumstance,” said Lakhyajyoti Gogoi, President of Satra Mukti Sangram Samiti (SMSS), which is a sister organisation of the fire-band Krishak Mukti Sangram Samity (KMSS).
KMSS has been leading massive protests across the state against the allotment of land to Patanjali and construction of its multi-crore project. Gogoi alleged foul play on part of the Assam’s BJP government, which has wilfully decided to ignore stern warnings about the site’s hazardous impact on the environment.
“Though the government on paper showed the area isn’t marked as animal corridor but herds of elephant striding everyday through that area and eventually yesterday’s fateful incident leaves the government stand exposed”.
Speaking exclusively to Janta Ka Reporter, the Conservator of Forest Tezpur, P Sivkumar, IFS, admitted regular movement of elephant herds along the area which has now become the Pantanjali site.
“The elephants move regularly during the winter from the Arunachal side to the Brahmaputra river and often camp here and this was notified documentarily in the 90s. The area was left unused for the last 10-15 years before it was granted to Patanjali,” Sivkumar added.
Sources in the forest department of Assam also informed Janta Ka Reporter that Patanjali was asked to put electric fencing along their construction site as the officials knew the area had frequent elephant movements and an electric fence would keep the animals away from the site.
Meanwhile the heart-wrenching sight of the three-month old elephant calf whimpering near the lifeless mother elephant left every single person congregated at the site with moist eyes.
“It is very painful to witness such a sight, but what’s more painful is when those in power remain unmoved and chose to ignore the pang of these harmless animals just for sake of money,” said a local villager.
The Assam forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma, while visiting the spot on Thursday was also moved by the melancholic scenes. Brahma is from the Bodoland People’s Front – a party which is an ally of the ruling BJP government in Assam.
Lambasting the local contractors at Patanjali site for not adhering to safety precautions, she promised of stringent actions.
Sivkumar later informed that they were documenting every detail of the incident and the authorities will an FIR against Patanjali anytime now. He informed that the elephant calf was under proper care and medication at the animal rescue centre situated in Kaziranga.
Later speaking to media persons, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonwal abstained from commenting on the havoc created by Ramdev’s Patanjali on wildlife or any possible actions against it. All he said was that his government was in complete agreement with every initiative of the Assam forest minister.
It may be worthwhile to mention that The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in August this year had ordered the Numaligarh Refinery Limited (NFL), a public sector company to demolish a 2.2 kilometer wall that blocked an elephant corridor near the Kaziranga National Park. The NGT also fined the company Rs. 25 lakh for destroying forest and levelling a hill for the refinery.
The anti-talk faction of the militant outfit ULFA (Independent) has already opposed the move of the state government grating 150 acres of land to Patanjali Ayurveda under an undisclosed MoU, when the victims of flood and erosion are yet to be rehabilitated.