Few in Arunachal Pradesh love oranges as much as Panking Pertin. Fewer grow them like him.
Pertin’s affair with oranges began in 1980-81 following a trip to Tinsukia in Assam for a health check-up. He returned to grow the citrus fruit on his 8.8 hectare land in Dambuk, a small sub-division of Lower Dibang Valley district.
His success story soon began to be spun by every household of the Adi community in the area. And he became a living legend as Dambuk transformed into the frontier north-eastern state’s prime orange orchard. Considered one of the juiciest and sweetest oranges in the world, the Dambuk variety earned praises from Narendra Modi during his Lok Sabha election campaign rally at Pasighat in 2014.
Pertin, 70, earns Rs 5.7 lakh annually from his orchard to sustain his family comfortably. Other farm entrepreneurs he inspired have been doing well too by offloading their produce at nearest town Pasighat and in Assam.
But the Dambuk orange is battling to get official recognition unlike the Wakro orange of Anjaw district that received the Geographical Indication tag some time ago. A two-day Orange Festival in January 2015 did raise hopes, but Dambuk relapsed into despair as winter gave way to spring before monsoon could set it.
For, Dambuk becomes a prisoner of nature from early April to late October when two rain-fed rivers – Dibang in the east and Sisar in the west – wall it in with water. The situation is similar for circle headquarters Paglam to the southeast.
Largely inhabited by the Adis and sparsely by the Idus, Dambuk comprises seven villages named Remi, Tapat, Yapgo, Kapang, Sirang, Publong and Awali. Inhabitants of these villages are in awe of Dibang and Sisar rivers; they are also wary of the damage small streams such as Sinekrong and Dotung can cause when it rains non-stop.
Anong Perme, 30, knew what was in store when it started raining heavily in April, making the Sinekrong rumble down the Sisar hill that arches over Dambuk. He prepared for the ‘cycle of imprisonment’, foreseeing the snapping of surface communication due to flash floods and debris carried by the swelling streams.
“Every year during monsoon, Dambuk remains cut off from the rest of the world. Incessant rainfall often throws life out of gear,” local resident Polo Lego said while rowing a country boat at Paglam.
In 2013, the Dambuk area received 6699.47 mm of rainfall while 2014 saw it being wetter with 8284.5 mm. For almost a month (September) last year, Paglam was inundated as Mother Nature poured with fury. This resulted in large-scale devastation of crops and livestock, the worst ever.
The only mode of communication in these areas during summer is a country-made boat, which is difficult to steer on the turbulent Dibang from Paglam. Transportation of essential goods for meeting the needs of 9,837 people (2011 census) is thus a herculean task.
“We have to depend entirely on air sorties for food grains during summer season (monsoon) because it is virtually impossible to transport anything on rickety boats,” N Saring, another local, said.
The Dibang river bridge project has provided a glimmer of hope for the locals. This 5.15 km long bridge under construction would connect Dambuk and Paglam to district headquarter Roing 50 km away. One of the longest in India, this bridge project estimated to cost Rs 476 crore has a 2016 deadline for completion. The work is being executed by Navayuga Engineering Company.
Another project spanning river Sisar is shorter. After completion, it will connect Dambuk to Pasighat, the headquarters of East Siang district 45 km away. Pasighat is regarded as the hub of the Adi community.
These two bridge project would not only remove the century-old communication bottleneck but also boost the sub-division economy, particularly in horticulture. “Once these bridges are completed, Dambuk will no longer be known as nature’s prisoner, cut off from the world beyond for six months,” Abu Tayeng, general manager of Arunachal Pradesh State Transport, said.
He is also the youngest son of local MLA Mrs Gum Tayeng.
The summer isolation from the outer world has been compounded by darkness over the years in Dambuk. The entire sub-division was reeling under darkness for 18 years until Home and Power Minister Tanga Byaling, along with the local MLA, inaugurated a 2x1 MVA, 33/11 KV power sub-station recently. Earlier, the people received only two hours of electricity per day from a 100KW diesel general set run by the power department after the Sisiri Hydel went defunct in 1995. Later, the local MLA bore the expenses to run the DG set after the power department expressed its inability to do so.
Apart from being a flood-prone area, Dambuk is historically significant for the resistance the Adis put up to prevent the British forces from advancing to Abor Hills at Bongal-Yagpo in 1894. The ruins of a 839m fortification bear testimony to the fierce battle against the British.
(The writer, sub-editor with The Arunachal Times, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)