About 30 km south west of North Lakhimpur town, the headquarter of Assam’s Lakhimpur district, is the Pabha Reserve Forest, which has got a new lease of life, thanks to a crackdown on encroachers by the State Government.
A determined Government under the stewardship of Chief Minister Dr. Himanta Biswa Sarma carried out a major eviction drive in the notified areas of the reserve forest on five days from January 10 to 14 earlier in the year. “Altogether 507 households were evicted from two areas of Mahkhuli and Adhakhana while securing nearly 4,163 hectares of land from them,” Lakhimpur DFO Ashok Kr Dev Choudhury told Asom Barta.
One of the instant karma of the eviction was the spotting of three rhinos by locals in the area just days after the drive. The reserve forest is spread over 4,625.85 hectares with poor vegetation.
The DFO said that Pabha eco system is suited for buffaloes and rhino habitation as the reserve forest has low-lying areas, wetland, and marshy lands. Varieties of bird species are also seen in swampy areas. “Till 1972, we used to witness wild buffaloes in the greater Pabha area but after a great flood in the same year, they vanished,” said Md Samed Ali (72) of Mahkhuli–Borgola area, which is on the periphery of the reserve forest.
Ali testified that encroachment in the area began in the 1970s. “After a massive bout of tree felling, encroachers resorted to paddy and mustard seeds cultivation in a big way despite regular notices by the Forest Department.”
Consisting of both normal and low-lying areas, the reserve forest has been experiencing floods during monsoon because of the Subansiri River which submerges huge areas of the reserve forest. According to locals, Subansiri’s tributary, Pabha River, which flows through the reserve forest aggravates flood in the area.
A part of this reserve forest is under the jurisdiction of the North Lakhimpur Range Office while the rest is with the Harmutty Range Office.
“At present, forest guards in three camps protect this reserve forest from encroachers. Conditions here are tough but we are determined,” said Babul Polong, a havildar of Assam Police, head of all the three camps in the reserve forest.
Harmutty Forest Range Officer Gunajit Talukdar told this reporter that the eviction was a success thanks to a coordinated effort by the Forest Department along with district administration and the police. However, the Lakhimpur DFO felt that better infrastructure and deployment of extra security personnel shall prevent encroachment in future.
The Department has now set its eyes on a major plantation drive in the reserve forest to reclaim its old glory and increase the forest cover. At present, a plantation drive in the periphery of the reserve forest is on under the externally aided project called Assam Project on Forest and Biodiversity Conservation (APFBC) as well as the Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA).
The Social Forestry wing of the Environment and Forest Department plans to increase its operation in greater areas of reserve forest. Earlier, it had carried out plantations in 80 acres in the reserve forest.
“Currently, we are doing plantations in 100 acres under APFBC. We are biding our time for water to recede and weather condition to improve before resuming plantation in remaining areas under the scheme. We have also initiated plantation drives in 300 acres of areas under CAMPA,” the DFO informed this newsletter.
For plantation drive under CAMPA, the Lakhimpur division has already raised 8.25 lakh saplings of different types of trees at its nursery near the Kakoi Reserve Forest in the district.
“In our nursery, we have raised saplings of different trees. This is solely for plantation under CAMPA in Pabha Reserve Forest. Some of the varieties of trees here are Ajhar, Simolu, Sum, Silikha, Neem, Ou Tenga (Elephant Apple), Nahar, among others,” said Harish Nath, Ranger of Lakhimpur Forest Range, under whose supervision the sapling development operation of the nursery is in progress.