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Arup Shandilya
Date of Publish: 2015-10-16

Hope through homestays

 

Thanks to a non-governmental intervention, a village on the fringes of Assam’s Manas National Park,which has been losing its traditional means of livelihood to man-animal conflict,is picking up an alternative

Arup Shandilya

This is both a sad and a happy story. Sad because people of an entire village have nearly lost their traditional means of livelihood because of the rising man-animal conflict in the area. And happy because they seem to have found a viable solution to counter the loss.

Facing the menace of marauding elephants and wild boars on their agricultural fields, many villagers of Langdangpara (Palsiguri) in Baksa district of lower Assam have nearly stopped farming for some time now. With the help of a grassroot organisation, they are, however, preparing to a new means of livelihood by opening their homes to tourists visiting the Manas National Park.

Langdangpara is a Bodo village on the fringes of the World Heritage Park.

Villagers Renu, Mithinga and Kunja Mushahary here relate what they suffered , “Wild elephants and boars would often come down to our fields and destroy not only paddy but also dig out vegetables like potatoes. This has hampered our means of livelihood a lot.”

“The amount of human-animal conflict was such that we had no other option but to stop farming altogether,” adds another villager Garga Mushahary.

Acute poverty and illiteracy came in the way of thinking out an alternative livelihood, till Manas Ever Welfare Society (MEWS), a local society that promotes eco-tourism, came forward last year with the idea of installing homestays facilities in their homes for domestic and international tourists.

The idea to introduce homestay facility for tourism promotion and community development is certainly not new in many parts of India but for these poor villagers, who have been facing a tough time over the years not only due to man-animal conflict but also due to rampant insurgency in the greater  area, it has come as a ray of hope.

To help them, generate income and save money that would be needed to open and run the proposed home stays, MEWS have selected 24 families for pig rearing and distributed the Hamciar species of pigs among those families as an alternative livelihood option. “We are trying to enhance their livelihood through pig rearing, earnings from which will help these families to open homestay facilities for tourists,” says MEWS Secretary Bubul Nath.

Located in the Himalayan foothills, the Manas National Park, a Project Tiger site and an elephant reserve,covers five districts of lower Assam -- Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baska,Udalguri and Darrang. It is also contiguous to the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan. The Park is home to a number of rare, endangered, endemic wildlife including the Assam roofed turtle, hispid hare, golden langur, capped langur, black panther, Asian elephant, Indian bison, pigmy hog, wild water buffalo and Bengal florican among others. The Park is also home to 60 species of mammals and over 400 species of birds and reptiles. 

In 2008, translocation of one-horned rhinos began in the Park under India Rhino Vision (IRV) 2020. At present 31 rhinos are in the Park, after poachers killed eight of them and one died a natural death.

Since it is located in a sensitive area bordering India and Bhutan which has a history of prolong insurgency activities and ethnic clashes, the Park, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985, was listed a World Heritage Site in Danger in 1992. One of the reasons for it was also massive poaching of animals. Fortunately, the earlier status of the Park was restored in 2011.

Although the authorities have been working towards improving the condition of the Park, sporadic incidents have been taking place. In the time of Bodoland Movement , the Park has been stripped of its rich flora and fauna, including 100 rhinos.

Insurgency in the region has been a huge deterrent too. In 2014, for instance, suspected militants of National Democratic Front of Bodoland(S) snatched rifles with ammunitions in two Forest Department camps inside the Park. The militants also killed more than  30 people in the two districts nearby. These life-threatening incidents forced the authorities to close the Park for visitors from December 24,  2014 to   January, 2  2015.

Says Bubul Nath, secretary, MEWS,“Due to those untoward incidents in 2014,about 60 foreign and 400 domestic tourists of us  cancelled their bookings. The total loss of the park  was estimated to be more than two crores in our calculation.”

However, with the new tourism season all set to begin in the Park from October 15, villagers of Langdangpara are awaiting guests with their door opens.

The authorities feel not only the Park but the villages in the fringe areas will benefit too this season. “The Park is getting very good response from both domestic and foreign tourists for this season. Bookings are going on. We are working hard to welcome tourists,” says Hirnaya Kumar Sarma, the Field Director of the Park.

Large scale security measures have been adopted to curb insurgency activities in the area. A massive joint operation was initiated by the security forces since January this year against NDFB (S) inside and outside the Park area and in some Indo-Bhutan and Assam-Bengal border areas.

“Visitor should come without fear. There is no need to worry,” says Dr.  L.R. Bishnoi,  Inspector General of Police, Bodoland Territorial  Area Districts.

Deba Kumar Datta, a senior project officer with WWF, also sounds positive. “Situation is far better from last year. The Park ecology too has shown an encouraging trend for tourists,” he says. WTI Project Officer  Sanatan Deka too says they are working hard to restore the glory and beauty.

Year

Total number of visitors to Manas National Park

 

Domestic

Foreign

2012-13

15890

218

 

2013-14

20527

211

2014-15

9786

475

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The writer is a staff reporter of the oldest Assamese Daily Dainik Asam, and can be reached at shandilyaarup@gmail.com )

 

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