The last house destroyed by NNP authorities on 11 Nov 2022 (AP Times, 22 Nov 2022). https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2022/11/12/encroachers-evicted-from-40th-mile-area/
The last house destroyed by NNP authorities on 11 Nov 2022 (AP Times, 22 Nov 2022). https://arunachaltimes.in/index.php/2022/11/12/encroachers-evicted-from-40th-mile-area/
Source: Changlang.nic.in (accessed: 17 August 2013).
Vijoynagar, comprises of sixteen villages having a population of about 4500 people near Indo-Myanmar border which is located in Changlang District and is Air maintained due to non existence of road networks. Fifty five percent of the population belong to retired Assam Rifle personnel and 45 percent is of Civilians comprising of mainly Lisu (Yobin) tribe.
Gandhigram Village, Vijoynagar, the last Village of India.
The settlement of the Assam Rifle personnel began from 1960 onwards. Prior to 1960, this place was little known to outside World. The villages have a number of Primary Schools. There is Arunachal Pradesh Government run Secondary School up to Ten standard. There are no roads in the area. There was a motorable road existing in the area from Miao up to Deban Camping ground, but due to deterioration, it is no longer used. The telecommunication facilities are not available, and only Radio Net communications are available in the Assam Rifles Camp. Detachment of Government Agencies like SIB and Arunachal Pradesh Police exist in the area. Assam Rifles camp have medical facilities, but no Doctors are available. The villagers are not covered under water supply scheme and draw raw water for their consumption. Power Department has installed Generator set for Power supply, but due to non availability of Funds for procuring Diesel, the Generator is not functional.
The villagers depend on Wet land and Jhoom Cultivation for their livelihood, and are dependent on rainfall. The Day to day requirement of Groceries is met by a few Shops; and which bring the Stores from Dibrugarh by Air or from Miao on foot. It takes six days to travel on foot from Vijoynagar to Miao. Civil and Military Helicopters (AN 32) fly from Dibrugarh to Vijoynagar Aircraft Landing Ground. These flights are irregular and have limited haulage capacity, in that they can take up to one ton load with eighteen persons on board. There are two such Sorties for Civilians and three numbers for Assam Rifle personnel.
A Lisu Woman with a child, Vijoynagar.
We all know our people in the picture. They are projected as “hunters”. This is what frustrates me about Aparajita and the Nature Conservation Foundation. It is good for them to get funding but what image that proclaim to their “wildlife world”? Its also fund to read Aparajita’s dream for the development of our people.
But, as always, history tells the complete story. After 10 years of fieldwork in our area, every one of us know her and her team’s true picture, completely from 2010. Now I wonder whether there will be anyone from our people to invite that team in our home.
In addition to the two articles in this blog, there are many more Roopak Goswami and others have reported in the Telegraph:
Continue to read….
Source: Hunter turns guide for green teams in Namdapha – Conservation foundation turns to Lisu tribesmen to save endangered species and generate awareness, by ROOPAK GOSWAMI (Telegraph India, 9 July 2007)
Lisu tribesmen fix a camera-trap at the park. Picture by Aparajita Dutta
Guwahati, July 8: The stealthy footsteps that once scoured forests to capture unsuspecting prey, now lead conservationists to rare species on the brink of extinction.
Akhi Nathany, a Lisu tribesman of Arunachal Pradesh, has traded his hunting gear for binoculars. The credit for the exchange goes to Nature Conservation Foundation, a Mysore-based group that aims to conserve wildlife in Arunachal Pradesh by involving tribal communities.
Nathany, now a gram panchayat member, is the main field co-ordinator of the foundation. The 55-year-old has donned the mantle of a guide, directing conservation teams with their camera-traps to even the most inaccessible of Namdapha National Park.
“People like him have unmatched knowledge of the terrain and landscape of the park. He will just find a way out of nowhere and navigate you to where you want to go. We just explain some features of the area we want to go to and show him some streams and other reference points on a map and he takes us there, without any trails or tracks. Without his help, it would have been impossible to conduct camera-trap surveys,” said Aparajita Datta, a scientist working with the foundation.
The organisation works primarily with the Lisu tribe that has settled on the fringes of the reserve forest. Several former hunters are engaged in the wildlife monitoring program which offers return benefits like medical support, training in healthcare and education, by supporting schools and teachers in the villages.
The park sprawls over an area of 1,985.23 square km on the international border between India and Myanmar, in Arunachal’s Changlang district.
Aparajita pointed out that as most of the work has to be done on foot, the teams need people to ferry rations and equipment.
“We need people to go back to get rations as they run out. Also, we place one trap in a particular location for 15 days, and then move on to new spots. But we would like to place the camera-traps simultaneously. As we have a limited number of traps at our disposal, some of the Lisus go back to retrieve the contraptions from earlier locations and bring them to the next spot,” she said.
A community protection force for the park has also been mooted. As many as 25 species of mammals, including 10 rare and endangered breeds like the clouded leopard, Asiatic black bear, Malayan sun bear and marbled cat, have been spotted here.
The organisation is also enlisting the help of the tribe to prepare an educational CD in Hindi for children in the state. “We will get a Nishi or Lisu narrator once the visuals, audio and script for the CD are put together,” she said.
Livelihood options for the Lisus have also been discussed. Leaders of the community have suggested starting a piggery to meet consumption and income needs.
“After much discussion, a plan has been worked out where beneficiaries will be identified and modalities framed accordingly. This will involve contributions from the community in the form of labour and manpower. Financial assistance for the piggery will be provided by the foundation as initial investments. Work will begin around September or October, after the monsoon,” Aparajita informed.
The foundation has also contacted organisations in Guwahati, Bangalore and New Delhi to promote indigenous Lisu handicrafts.
“Samples, pictures and product descriptions have been sent to two commercial enterprises as well as some entrepreneurs. The effort has yielded some supplementary income for a few families here. We have also granted financial support to a partner NGO near Namdapha to help set up a tribal handicrafts shop that will enable villagers to augment their income. We hope it will go a long way in generating awareness among local residents and tourists about the park. The shop is ready and will be open in time for the winter tourist traffic,” she said.
The expert committee has very strategic thinking: to bring into working relationship with the Yobin community and the Namdapha Tiger Project. They don’t talk anything about pushing the Namdapha National Park boundary back. They also talk about recruiting our people as protection force.
But the goal of all these assessment is to try to relocate our people outside the National Park’s limit.
Source: Special force pill for Namdapha – Evaluation experts suggest involving Lisus to prevent poaching, by ROOPAK GOSWAMI (Telegraph India, 6 Dec 2010).
Namdapha tiger reserve. Telegraph picture
Guwahati, Dec. 5: A rapid field evaluation on Namdapha tiger reserve in Arunachal Pradesh, conducted by experts, has suggested to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) the need to have a separate protection force by members of the Lisu tribe, who have excellent knowledge of the terrain to help in detection of poachers from Myanmar.
The conservation authority has categorised Namdapha as a poor tiger reserve and had asked experts to carry out a rapid appraisal.
The expert committee report, which was recently submitted to NTCA, said there could even be an agreement with the Lisu community that they would take an active role in preventing hunting and other disturbances.
“There can be forest camps every 10km with regular staff posted along with members of the Lisu community,” the report said.
The team opined that Namdapha tiger reserve is of immense value from biodiversity point of view as it also shelters tiger and other key animals. Illegal hunting is a serious threat to wildlife in the park, and is prevalent among all tribal groups.
The report said poaching was likely to be among the primary factors resulting in the current decline in Namdapha, which is located along the international border with Myanmar and close to hotspots of trade in animal body parts.
“In Myanmar, there is a documented decline of tigers because of hunting for trade. Hunting of tigers is a significant threat to the persistence or recovery of tigers and other large carnivores in Namdapha,” it said.
There are 84 families staying in eight villages in the core area of the tiger reserve. It says contingency staff for protection squad should be hired from local communities, rules on educational qualifications should be relaxed as this often hampers the selection of the right people for forest patrolling duties. The best people for this work are often uneducated, but skilled in the jungle.
Not only in regard to recruiting local people, the committee has also called for a change in attitude of the forest department as there has been a long history of blaming the Lisu with poor efforts at understanding their problems or dialogue.
The committee feels this mindset needs to change to move forward positively to solve the park’s problems.
The biggest problem is in relocation of Lisus outside the park as the leaders of the community have indicated that they were not willing to settle for the Rs 10 lakh compensation and would want adequate land to be notified and demarcated for them in lieu of the occupied land in the park.
Settlements inside the park came up since 1997-98.
“All these problems have also been exacerbated by the remoteness of the area with no road connection, poor communication and infrastructure, low staff strength and motivation, poor official interest in the park with very limited action/management on ground. These also results in further deterioration of morale and functioning of the lower field staff,” the report said.
Today I browsed again the website of the President of India (www.prsindia.org), hoping to find something on our ST. Sadly, I found the only reference was from the Project Tiger (Union Ministry of Environment and Forest). They are the last government agency we ever wanted to interact with. But then I also read that the researchers for this report are much more objective than the authorities of the Namdapha National Park.
Enjoy your reading and learn the potential policy of the Central Government in the Namdapha National Park.
Source: The Report of the Tiger Task Force: Joining the Dots (Page 65-67), by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (Project Tiger), 2005.
The reserves in the northeastern states of India are vast and inaccessible, low on staff and high on local control. One conservation option here, as elsewhere, is to spread a security blanket around a reserve and protect it with hard action. This model has been successfully tried in Kaziranga national park, Assam, where a low intensity war has been fought between insurgents and poachers versus the government for a period. But even here, the park authorities and the government have worked on reconciling local interests in protection. But there are other reserves where this protection model is not feasible. What, then, are the options?
The 2,000 sq km Namdapha tiger reserve is located in Changlang district, the eastern-most part of Arunachal Pradesh. It was declared a reserve forest in 1970 under the Assam Forest Regulation Act, 1891 (first proposed in 1947), and subsequently a wildlife sanctuary in 1972. It was finally declared a national park in May 1983; two months before, it was declared a tiger reserve. In 1986, a 177 sq km area of reserve forest was added to the tiger reserve and is designated as the buffer zone, while the rest (1,808 sq km) is considered the core zone.
The area has a wide altitudinal range, from 200 m to over 4,500 m. The terrain is steep and inaccessible. The old 157 km Miao-Vijaynagar road runs through the park, though it is motorable only for 26 km up to a settlement called Deban. The park headquarter is at Miao township, with a single functioning range in Deban. Civil supplies to villages located outside the eastern boundary of the park are carried on foot or on elephant back through the park, mostly along the river and parts of the road. Access for tourists, and even park authorities and biologists, is mostly restricted to areas up to 900 m. The interior and higher areas of the park remain unexplored, except by hunters from local communities.
The only ones who really know the forest, therefore, are the local communities that walk the forest for hunting and survival. Aparajita Dutta, a wildlife biologist with Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), a Mysore-based NGO, has been studying the region for a while, and believes that hunting pressures on the region are extreme and it is only these hunting communities in the region that really know the forest.
The region is home to several indigenous tribes. Beyond the southeastern boundary of the park (at 80 mile) are 13 villages with 673 households and a population of 5,147. There are four Lisu villages in Vijaynagar circle — these adjoin the park and have 403 households (population 2,600) — and nine other villages of Nepali ex-servicemen with a population of about 2,018; these ex-servicemen had been settled here by the government after 1962. Apart from this, there are other tribal and non-tribal government department staff and personnel of the Assam Rifles and the Indian Air Force.
The Lisu, also referred to as Yobin by some communities, are agriculturalists and also have a reputation of being skilled hunter-gatherers. There is strong resentment, anger, and mistrust against the forest department among most Lisu. Their biggest grievance is that the creation of the park and demarcation of the boundary in 1983 was carried out without any consultation with them, and there was no settlement of rights. Many insist that the area between Deban and Gandhigram is their area and that they had no idea when the national park was created. For instance, most Lisu believe that the biggest hurdle to building the arterial road (which they see as crucial to their development) has been the forest department — it was responsible for stopping road repair and maintenance in 2000. There is also resentment as they believe the forest department has portrayed the Lisu as “illegal settlers who have encroached the area of the reserve from across the international border of the country”.
The field staff strength in Namdapha is very low and they are not trained or motivated; given the poor accessibility, patrolling by the department is restricted to the fringe areas. There are merely 22 sanctioned posts of forest guards to manage and protect 1,985 sq km. Of these 22 posts, only 11 are filled. This effectively means one person per 180 sq km. In contrast, Kaziranga national park in Assam, a model of successful protection through enforcement, has 500 forest guards for 800 sq km (one guard per 1.6 sq km) on flat lowland terrain with numerous ranges, beats and forest camps. In Namdapha, there is a complete lack of basic facilities and of support from local police and administration. Most staff are outsiders; not a single Lisu is currently employed in the department. The headquarters in Miao is 10 km from the park boundary with a single range at Deban. Currently, no staff is posted at some of the accessible temporary camps. Even to patrol this relatively accessible area, the staff depends on boats to cross the river and rations have to be carried there. Often during the monsoon when the river is in spate, it is dangerous to use the boats and staff has been stranded on the other side for days with no food. In the absence of regular staff presence and patrolling, hunters often use these forest camps.
Consequently, the park is in a state of crisis. Researchers believe tigers have all but disappeared from the reserve, though information remains unverified. Hunting continues unabated and a resilient and enterprising community turned destitute and desperate by the creation of the park looks upon the ‘park’ (not the forest) with animosity. At present, there is a stalemate. The state is unable to increase the strength of the staff.
Even if the forest department does get additional resources, it will be handicapped without knowledge of the park. The immediate need to ensure wildlife conservation in Namdapha is protection from hunting, fishing and other kinds of disturbance.
Most Lisu today view the park as the biggest barrier to their aspirations and the root of all their problems. They are bearing all the costs of conservation. They have poor relations with the department, which sometimes result in retaliatory hunting, and this needs to be remedied through dialogue and better communication. However, if they can get tangible benefits, there could be a positive attitudinal change.
A solution to the agricultural land problem of the Lisu is also urgently required to stop the influx of Lisu families settling inside the park. A realistic relocation/resettlement plan has to be made in consultation with and the agreement of the Lisu. There is a need to find alternate employment options and opportunities for the Lisu, some of which (such as eco-tourism) could be tied to the national park. The Lisu community’s support for the park would go a long way in ensuring wildlife conservation as they can themselves work either directly as guards and informers (about hunting activity) in the forest department, or through support from other organisations. Once they have a stake in the area, there will be a much better understanding of the need for conservation there.
The Nature Conservation Foundation, which has been working in the area for several years, has already launched a plan on these lines. The plan, in principle, is simple and based on the logic the existing social and ecological set-up demands. It proposes a creation of a protection force for the reserve that is based upon the talent and knowledge of the community. This requires creation of a trained force of Lisu hired by the forest department and working in collaboration with the department to monitor the biodiversity as well as accord protection to the area. The Nature Conservation Foundation suggests a way to reduce the burden of hiring and maintaining such a force: investments can be made to bolster the tourism infrastructure, and the revenue from tourism can be shared with the community.
Eco-tourism is the most tangible benefit the Lisu can get out of the park; through eco-tourism, they can create a direct and positive affiliation with the park as well as a case for protection of wildlife. Tourist inflow into the park is right now relatively low. But the area is known to bird watchers around the world and needs to be marketed and projected as a unique destination. Most Indian tourists are from Assam and only visit Deban, which is seen more as a picnic spot. Infrastructure and other tourist facilities are, as yet, limited to Deban. Building the tourism system is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one; it is easily more viable than positioning more guards and infrastructure in that region. Moreover, the investments made in tourism will be of the nature of capital investments, leading to revenue generation for the cash-strapped department as well as sustainable livelihoods for the people. Such investments, in a climate of political volatility and rising unemployment, are the need of the hour: to invest in creating livelihoods rather than than in bringing in more administration, guards, arms, ammunition which encourage attendant alienation of the people.
The Task Force has received representations from the Nature Conservation Foundation. Its researchers have been engaging with Project Tiger officials as well, to see how the initiative, at present a private one, can be up-scaled into an official mascot for Project Tiger to experiment as an alternative.
This will require the following at the minimum:
While all this is easily done on paper, at the field level it demands the best of staff and the most motivated of personnel. Therefore, both the people as well as the forest department need to be given adequate training in setting up an experiment that demands skills to manage the protection force as well as run it as a profit-making exercise.
But it clearly needs to be encouraged, because unless we experiment and innovate, how will we succeed?
The flying villagers of Arunachal
The Indian Air Force is the only lifeline for many remote hamlets Nitin A Gokhale in Vijainagar, Arunachal Pradesh
As Flight Lt P Joseph manoeuvres the massive AN-32 through the high mountain ranges, he is concentrating hard as a small error could take the cargo plane beyond the short and semi-prepared runway. The Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots who fly here
can’t afford the slightest error: The runway is a jagged strip, at the height of 4,200 feet, located at the tri-junction of India, China and Myanmar.
Welcome to Vijainagar in Arunachal Pradesh’s Changlang district. For its 7,000 people, (indigenous tribes and a number of ex-servicemen who settled here in the 1970s under a government scheme) the nearest road is a five-day walk through thick jungle. The village has no electricity, no telephone and no bank. Its only connection to the outside world is the bi-monthly AN-32 flight.
As Joseph lands with clinical precision, a motley crowd of locals, Assam Rifles personnel and a few IAF officers gather around the aircraft. At least 40 people are waiting to board the “civil” sortie to Dibrugarh in Assam but the aircraft can take only 20 at a time. So the decision as to who gets to go will rest upon A Ngwazah. A local Lisu tribal who has graduated from the Madras University, he now has a job officially described as “political interpreter”, but which otherwise involves liaison with IAF officials.
“We have an order of precedence to follow,” Ngwazah explains. The government babu, as expected, gets the first place in the pecking order, followed by patients, then people who have a death in the family away from Vijainagar and so on. It could be months before a civilian can fly either to or from Vijainagar.
Minoti Kakoti came to visit her husband, a schoolteacher in Vijainagar in April 2002 after leaving her children with her parents in Tezpur, Assam. Six months later, she is waiting for her turn on the flight!
The flight to Dibrugarh is not expensive. “The fare is Rs 676 for an individual, but with luggage-charges, it adds up to Rs 700. Even if I am ready to pay, only God knows when I will get the chance. It all depends on the frequency of sorties and on the circle officer,” says Sarah Yobin, who runs a garment shop.
The IAF is bound by technical considerations: an AN-32 can carry a load of only three tonnes given the under-prepared runway and limited take-off facility.
Flying to Vijainagar is only a tiny fraction of the Air Force mandate in this region. Every day, for 365 days a year, its Eastern Air Command is busy carrying out a wide variety of tasks ranging from the vital air logistics operations for both the army and the civilian population to training cub pilots flying fighter aircrafts. For instance the fleet of giant MI-17 helicopters carry heavy broken down pieces of bulldozers to the hard-to-reach-by-road mountainous terrain along the China border where a special project to build all-weather roads at altitudes upwards of 12,000 feet is underway. These roads are deemed vital for India’s defence along the McMohan Line.
The IAF’s civil flights are Vijainagar’s lifeline. It is the only way for the post to reach this remote village. “The last time I sent the mail bags was more than a month ago,” says postmaster Lohit Sonowal. Two nursing assistants and a field-worker run its only dispensary. The doctor is out for two months. Some say he got himself transferred. “If someone gets seriously ill, there is no way except to wait for the next sortie to be air-lifted to the hospital in Dibrugarh,” nursing assistant Gawzadu Yobin says.
At the secondary school, there are only six teachers for nearly 700 students. Physical education teacher OP Pandey’s kerosene-stock ran out more than a month ago. He asks if the AN-32 has brought kerosene. “The children of some Assam Rifles personnel come to me for tuition. I asked each of them to bring me a bottle of kerosene as there’s no shortage in their camp,” Pandey, who’s from Bihar, says wryly. BP Yadav, his colleague, is waiting his turn to get a free lift, which is allowed once a year to civilians.But for the Air Force, walking for nearly a week to the nearest bus station would have been the only alternative for Vijainagar.
Source: Written by SUSHANTA TALUKDAR (The Hindu, Vol 20, Issue 20).
In a frontier settlement in Arunachal Pradesh that has no link with the rest of the country other than IAF flights.
PHOTOGRAPHS: RITU RAJ KONWAR
An AN-32 aircraft at the airstrip in Vijaynagar, where life revolves round IAF sorties.
“UNPREDICTABLE” is the word to describe life in Vijaynagar, a picturesque valley on India’s eastern frontier veiled by clouds and surrounded by majestic mountains. A trip to this remote, inaccessible settlement in Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh is a lesson in how human beings survive extreme conditions.
Located at the tri-juncture of India, Myanmar and China on the periphery of the world famous Namdapha Tiger Reserve and National Park, Vijaynagar is a completely air-maintained human settlement. The colourful, little-known Lisu tribal people are its first settlers. They migrated from Myanmar in the 1930s. The Nepali residents of this once ungoverned territory are ex-servicemen of the Assam Rifles and their families, settled there by the Government of India between 1963-64 and 1970-71. An Assam Rifles outpost was opened in 1962, and the first batch of ex-servicemen was flown there in 1963. Three more batches were moved in by 1970-71. The Nepali settlers were given incentives in the form of cash, cattle, implements, houses, land and free air travel, besides jobs in the Assam Rifles.
There are 13 recognised villages and one unrecognised one in Vijaynagar. The Lisus are concentrated in four villages, Gandhigram being the largest Lisu village.
Apart from the two civilian sorties, there are some three sorties a month for the soldiers guarding the strategic frontier.
Narrating tales he heard from his grandfather, a local Lisu leader, K.D. Yobin, said the Lisus living in Putao in Myanmar used to frequent the jungles of Vijaynagar to hunt wild animals. Between 1935 and 1936, some Lisu families cleared some patches of jungle and settled down here. In 1962, an Assam Rifles aerial patrol detected smoke billowing from the thick jungles. Later, an Assam Rifles team, after a long foot march, located the Lisu families.
Yobin says Vijaynagar was called “Daodi” by the Lisus. “It was later named Vijaynagar by Major General A.S. Guraya of the Assam Rifles after his only son, Vijay, who was born here. Major General Guraya was deputed by the Government of India to survey this area,” he said.
Maintenance work in progress at the Advanced Landing Ground in Vijaynagar, which is among the toughest ALGs for IAF pilots.
India shares a border with Myanmar on three sides of Vijaynagar. On one side stand the Mugaphi hills. On another are the Kachin hills, which separate Vijaynagar, an island of peace, and the Kachin region of Myanmar, which used to be a dream destination for armed cadre of militant outfits of north-eastern India, who went there to receive arms training under the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a rebel outfit of Myanmar that runs a parallel government there. For the entire duration of the Frontline team’s stay in Vijaynagar, between April 2 and April 7, the Mugaphi hills were capped with snow. These hills often hide behind rain clouds, which can disappear as quickly as they come.
The jungles on the hills are rich in fauna and flora. Families of Hollock gibbon, the only ape found in India, roam the jungles on bright days. Skulls of monkeys and horns of wild deer and other animals displayed in some Lisu homes point to a tradition of hunting, which the Lisus have not yet given up.
Horses are often used to carry cement and sand to Vijaynagar from Miao.
Having lived side by side over the past four decades, the Lisus and the Nepalis have started sharing each other’s skills. A wooden pestle used by the Lisus called “aje chidu”, which pounds without human interference, using the pressure of running streams, has been adopted by the Nepalis.
AN-32 – The lifeline
People of the tribe return home after collecting firewood in Dowdi village. In the absence of cooking gas and electricity, they depend on firewood for fuel.
The transport aircraft AN-32 of the Indian Air Force, known as the workhorse of the IAF’s transport fleet, is virtually the only mode of transport for the about 6,000 residents should they wish to travel out of Vijaynagar. The IAF usually operates two civilian sorties every month from the Mohanbari airport in upper Assam’s Dibrugarh district. In addition, there are some three sorties a month for the Assam Rifles personnel guarding the strategic frontier.
For the pilots of AN-32, the Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) at Vijaynagar is one of the toughest. Life in Vijayanagar revolves round the AN-32 sorties. Residents look out for the red flag that the IAF puts up on the Air Traffic Control tower of the ALG to indicate that the weather is fair enough for the plane to land. However, the weather is so unpredictable, particularly during the rainy season, that thick rain clouds and fog may suddenly engulf the valley, forcing the IAF to cancel scheduled flights. Sometimes, the residents watch the aircraft circling above the high mountain ridges and then returning as the pilots fail to see the ALG through the thick envelope of clouds. The residents can tell just by looking at the sky if the aircraft would land or not.
Another displays the claws of an eagle he killed.
Whenever they see the aircraft descending for a landing, the residents rush towards the ALG – some to receive family members, some to avail themselves of the opportunity to fly to Mohanbari. After quickly off-loading the passengers and parcels, the pilots and the cabin crew get the aircraft ready for take-off after 20-30 minutes.
Residents who manage to travel out often have to wait at Dibrugarh for days, weeks and sometimes even months to fly back home. The sick and the aged get priority. On many occasions, Assam Rifles officers have asked their jawans to postpone their leave and wait for the next sortie so that the sick and needy residents could be flown to Dibrugarh. When the flights get cancelled for too long and homes start running out of provisions, Assam Rifles and IAF personnel share their own rations with the villagers.
A Lisu tribesman shows off a traditional hunting implement.
After the cargo aircraft takes off, the centre of activity shifts to the post office nearby – the only financial institution in the entire administrative circle. “People bring in all kinds of goods, from grocery items to clothes to household goods, in parcels weighing 30 kg at the most. The salaries for the government staff and the pension money of ex-servicemen also come by the sortie and is disbursed by the post office,” says Bidyadhar Baruah, the postmaster who has been serving there for the past two years.
The only alternative to air transport is a six-day trek through a 157-km stretch of thick jungles through Namdapha, to reach Miao, the nearest town. Residents hire Chakma refugees to carry grocery items and other household goods from Miao. The porters charge Rs.50 for every kilogram of the load, which they carry on their heads. Thus a bag of cement costs Rs.3,000 in Vijaynagar. During our visit, salt cost Rs.80 to Rs.100 a kg while mustard oil was Rs.150 a litre. Two Maruti Gypsy vans, one belonging to the IAF and the other to the Assam Rifles, are the only vehicles that ply within Vijaynagar.
A Lisu fahter with his two little children.
The public distribution system (PDS) does not work in Vijaynagar, which means the residents have to buy provisions from the market at exorbitant prices. For four months from April, residents coped with an acute shortage of salt and rice as heavy rain made the IAF’s civilian sorties impossible. On August 6, 20 bags (1,000 kg) of salt were off-loaded from the AN-32 flight, while two special sorties in Pawan Hans helicopters brought supplies of rice meant for the midday meal scheme for schoolchildren, about 500 kg of salt, medicines and textbooks.
Every civilian sortie by AN-32, which is requisitioned by the Deputy Directorate of Supply and Transport (DDST) of the Arunachal Pradesh government, costs about Rs.2.24 lakh an hour. From Mohanbari to Vijaynagar, the AN-32 flight takes about 45 minutes. Even if the flight cannot land at Vijaynagar because of inclement weather, the DDST must pay the entire amount to the IAF. As these sorties are heavily subsidised, each passenger is charged only Rs.676 for a one-way trip. The incoming trips bring registered parcels and a maximum of 24 passengers while not more than 10 adult passengers and three or four children can fly out from Vijaynagar in each trip.
Shifting a patient out of Vijaynagar for treatment with the help of an IAF aircraft. A file photograph.
There is no electricity supply in this frontier settlement. The Power Department of the State government installed a generator set but it lies unused because there are no funds to buy diesel. The district administration has undertaken the construction of a micro-hydel power plant with a generation capacity of 100 kilowatt at Gaherigaon, with two turbines of 50 kilowatt each. This will perhaps be one of the costliest hydel projects of its size. All the building materials must be transported by porters or carried by elephants. Kul Bahadur Newar, a local businessman, has rented out his three horses to transport cement bags and sand to the plant site to earn some extra money.
As the residents eagerly await the commissioning of the hydel plant, solar plates, subsidised by the State government, serve as an alternative source of power. The residents can illuminate at least one room and switch on television sets with their help. Some of the residents have also installed dish antennae.
Vijaynagar is not covered by landline or mobile phone networks. The Circle Office had one INMARSAT satellite phone. Before it went out of order in February this year, each call was charged at Rs.50 plus for the “hello” and Rs.5 a minute. The facility was restored on July 23, when a Digital Satellite Phone Terminal (DSPT) system was installed. “For using the new DSPT, the residents are no longer required to pay the extra Rs.50 and the call is charged at Rs.5 a minute,” said Circle Officer Rakesh Rai. In addition to the DSPT at the Circle Office, two more DSPTs have been installed – one at the market area and another at Gandhigram. Children can study up to Class IX in Vijaynagar. For further studies, they have to go to Miao. It is mostly the boys who go out.
There is only one public health centre with one doctor for all the 14 villages. Dr Mopi Loyi, who has married a Lisu girl, is very popular. In emergencies, the patients are carried on stretchers to faraway Miao if airlifting them is not feasible. Vijaynagar did not have a full-time doctor for about three years before Loyi arrived. A former student of the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences at Imphal, he left a posting in a hospital in Delhi and arrived in 2006 to serve in this remote location.
The Assam Rifles helps in organising medical camps. Changlang Deputy Commissioner S.B. Deepak Kumar told Frontline that one of his priorities for Vijaynagar was to impress upon the Ministry of Environment and Forests to revive the 157-km Miao-Vijayangar road as a forest road so that light vehicles can ply on it. “If the Government of India agrees to have this forest road revived, then the six days of journey on foot will be reduced to barely five to six hours of journey,” he said.
A wooden pestle used traditionally by Lisu tribal people in Gaheri village. As water from a stream fills the hollowed end of the pestle, it goes down. It empties itself and comes up, and the other end goes down. This process repeats itself and helps grind rice kept in a mortar at the other end.
The Arunachal Pradesh Public Works Department started building the road in 1972, and it was formally inaugurated in 1974. However, the road was abandoned after less than two years as the PWD could not maintain it. Forest experts are divided on whether it should be revived. Some experts say it will adversely impact the conservation efforts in Namdapha, but others say that a forest road will allow better vigil by forest guards.
The Field Director at the Namdapha Tiger Reserve, Yogesh, when contacted, said that the Government of India was in favour of a forest road, but one that was not blacktopped and was not more than three metres wide. He felt that the movement of light civilian vehicles could be allowed and that such a forest road could serve both conservation and communication needs.
A forest road can go a long way in giving these prisoners of the frontier freedom from unpredictable and irregular sorties and dependence on porters and elephants to meet their daily household needs. The revival of the road is also vital for food security as there is no government storage for stocking foodgrains at Vijaynagar. In the event of a major crop failure coupled with a long period of inclement weather, residents might face starvation.
This is a beautiful description by a traveler and in much details. Ten years from now this will be a treasure to look back at how our road was. We travel but we don’t record. Its all head knowledge.
Particularly impressed here is a traveler, a pure traveler. Very often we have “wild life spies” coming as tourist.
By Sharbendu De (Indian Express, 21 April 2013).
The sky above us rumbled ominously when we woke up, but the downpour started much later. With its reputation of being one of the rainiest places in the Northeast, we were glad to get out of Namdapha National Park (NNP) and Tiger Reserve in the Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh dry that day. Armed with leech guards, flashlights, food, water purifiers and insect repellants, we were on a week-long trek to Gandhigram and Vijaynagar, Indian settlements on the Indo-Myanmar border. Away from the tourist map, on the eastern fringes of the park, the distance between Miao (the nearest town) and these settlements can be bridged through air sorties from Mohanbari in Dibrugarh (two per month for civilians and a long queue to boot) organised by the Army, or the recently started Pawan Hans weekly helicopter service. But we wanted to test our appetite for adventure with the 157-km trek along the Miao-Vijaynagar Road, that runs past some of the Lisu tribal settlements inside the park.
The NNP and Tiger Reserve is part of a 20,000 square kilometer contiguous forest that stretches from Arunachal into the Hukong Valley forest in north Myanmar. While Arunachal is known to be India’s richest biodiversity hotspot, NNP, spread over 1,985 sq km, is considered to be one of India’s largest national parks. It shares its boundaries with the Kamlang wildlife sanctuary in the north, the Miao reserve forest, the Nampong reserve forest, and Diyun reserve forest in the west and the Kachin Province in Myanmar to the south. The Lisu tribal settlement in Gandhigram is in the east. Listed among 12 biodiversity mega-spots in the world, NNP is known for its dramatic landscapes and a wide range of flora and fauna. It’s also home to four big cats: the tiger, leopard, clouded leopard and snow leopard. NNP’s freshwater lakes — Raja Jheel, Moti Jheel, Bulbulia, Manpong, Dipi, Ganja, Katboi — are also perfect spots to watch migratory birds.
Usually, travellers visiting Namdapha do a circuit-trek in the buffer zone of the park, in the hope of sighting the rather elusive tigers of the region, but it’s also permissible to trek through the buffer area of the park to reach outlying regions. We travelled to Miao last month from Tinsukia in Upper Assam, following the Stilwell Road, onto Jagun to enter Arunachal, and drove to M’Pen, the entry point to NNP. Our next port of call was the Forest Rest House in Deban, 25 km from Miao inside the buffer area of Namdapha National Park. It was late in the afternoon when we reached and David Yobin, our 49-year-old Lisu porter and guide, suggested we camp there for the night and start early the next morning, since evenings arrive early here.
By the time we set up camp, around 5 pm, darkness had shrouded the mountains. For a city-bred person, it’s impossible to imagine how deep and inscrutable darkness can be. And how silent. With our cellphone connectivity long gone, and barring the forest office’s wireless set that crackled with uneventful updates every hour, we seemed to have dropped off the world’s radar. As the evening progressed, the wind hurled dried leaves and twigs on to our shack, and the gurgling Noa Dihing river nearby lent the quiet night an acoustic theatricality.
In the morning, we awoke to the chirping of birds. After a breakfast of tea and Maggi, our four-member team set off along the MV Road, walking a mile before going downhill to a sandy embankment by the river. David informed us that the road ahead, locally known as the monkey trail, would be arduous. Soon we knew why. Rickety bamboo bridges spanned over the river at several places, our link to an undiscovered world. The bridges were a series of stilts placed vertically at intervals along the width of the river, with two poles thrown on top and tied with forest vines, made and maintained by the Lisus living in the forest. During monsoon, crossing the turbulent river becomes a nightmare, so the Lisus stock up on provisions in winter and early summer, walking for nearly a week to reach Miao.
For us, it was a nightmare even then. The acrobatics involved to cross the unstable bridges were enough to weaken even the strongest resolve. As we dithered, 18-year-old Apho, David’s nephew and our second porter-cum-cook, dashed across the first bridge, in a bid to show us how easy it could be. We braced ourselves and struggled on, eyes straight ahead on the bank, never looking down at the fall beneath. A couple of hours later, we had cautiously crossed four bridges, arriving at the first big stop for our morning meal — a camp with two straw huts, locally referred to as 19-mile.
After eight hours of trekking, we finally arrived at 27-mile stop, our camp for the night. Toll collectors awaited us. A Lisu family had set up base here to collect Rs 10 as fee per head per bridge from passersby. Payments done, we clasped our hot cups of tea and watched two frail-bodied Chakma tribals fish. After a while, I padded down to the river to dip my blistered feet in the ice-cold water. Apho (meaning first son in the Lisu dialect) was cooking dinner over a crackling fire, playing old English hits recorded on his phone, while David scrounged around for firewood. As dusk fell, and with it visibility, we huddled around the fire, eating our earthy meal of rice and dal, exchanging stories and listening to tales about the origin of the Lisu tribe. A solitary bird kept punctuating the night with its calls. David told us, it was a harbinger of spring. “At this time of the year, it calls for days. When we hear the bird, we know it’s time to start tilling the land,” he said.
It took us another three days to reach the 52-mile stop — David’s village Nibudi — named after the blue Patkai hills to the east. Here, we met several other boys named Apho. Apparently, every Lisu family names their first son Apho and their first daughter Anna. Liaso Yobin, their 90-year-old gram bura (village chief) came down to meet us one evening. Over cups of teeta cha (a local variant of black tea), he shared folk tales, stories of fighter planes and wreckages of World War II. The next few days were spent in playing volleyball with the Aphos and joining them for a swim. Nibudi became our destination and plans for Gandhigram were suspended. We ambled through forest tracks, spent hours by the riverbank watching the majestic ranges change colour and sat down with the village elders every evening for cha and gossip. At the end of our stay, on our way back to Miao, we pitched our tent at the confluence of the Namdapha river with Noah Dihing and sat by the bonfire one last time to savour the beauty of this untrammelled region before we returned to the chaos of our urban existence.
How to reach: By flight to Guwahati or Dibrugarh in Assam and then by car to Miao. Obtain Inner Line Permit from Arunachal Bhawan at Delhi, Kolkata or Guwahati before entering the state. Write to the Field Director, Namdapha National Park (Fax: 03807-222249/223131; email@example.com) for permits to enter the park.
Sharbendu De is a documentary photographer and travel writer
The news coverage of a meeting on 31 March 2010, made the way for ten of our representatives to write a memorandum, without getting consensus from our general public. Few observations:
Source: Effort to relocate Lisus from Namdapha Tiger Reserve (Arunachal Times, 31 March 2010)
ITANAGAR, Mar 31: Efforts to relocate the Lisus from Namdapha National Park (Tiger Project), Miao is on. The Lisus comprising of 84 families are reported to have encroached in the Core/Critical Wild Life habitat inside Namdapha Tiger Reserve at 5 locations.
On Mar 30, a meeting on Lisu relocation and rehabilitation from Namdapha National Park was convened at Miao which was attended by Parliamentary Secretary (Environment & Forests) Kumar Waii. He said that there is immense pressure from the centre to find an early solution to the rehabilitation of Lisu settlers from Namdapha.
He said that the proposal by Lisu leaders to recognize their settlements inside the Tiger Project by de-reserving the area is not feasible and urged them to accept the compensation package and move out from the Park. He categorically stated that in near future if the Govt. decides to evict the settlers as they inhabit the critical wildlife habitat, it will be a great loss.
The Lisus have sought some time to arrive at an amicable solution.
Local Kamlung Mossang, ZPM Chairperson Junpo Jugli, PCCF (WL & BD) & Chief Wildlife Warden J.L.Singh along with officials from Wildlife and Local administration attended the meeting.
Namdapha was originally a Reserved Forest and was declared as Wildlife Sanctuary in 1972 under Assam Forest Regulation. It was declared a National Park in 1983. In the same year, it was declared a Tiger Reserve under Project Tiger Scheme of the Government of India. An area of 177.425 sq. km. of Reserved Forest was added to the Tiger Reserve in 1986. Namdapha National Park is the largest protected area in the Eastern Himalaya biodiversity hotspot and is recognized as one of the richest areas in biodiversity in India.
There are 41 tiger reserves in India which includes Namdapha and Pakhui in Arunachal, governed by Project Tiger. The landmark report, Status of the Tigers, Co-predators, and Prey in India, published by the National Tiger Conservation Authority, estimates only 1411 adult tigers in existence in India including the uncensused tigers in the Sundarbans.
The news “The Lisus say no to relocation from Namdapha National Park” became a hot topic. Much correspondence happened. More about this is given in detail Yobin/Lisu and Namdapha: news reviews of Sep and Oct 2011.
Soon after those days, I had to rush home to attend my mom who was brutally attacked by our own buffalo. While in the village I got hold of a very important document. That provided further insight why the ADC Miao took so much interest to relocate and why he was very upset when our community said no to the relocation proposal.
Ten representatives (GBs of Josadi, Sichudi, Musathi and Nibodi, Panchayat leaders and others) submitted a memorandum to The Parliamentary Secretary (Environment and Forest, Govt of AP), dated April 07, 2010. The seven-page document highlighted the problems our people face, the history. It finally concluded: find a suitable place for relocation of 84 families or recognize the existing settlements.
The wildlife and administration were, no doubt, very keen to respond to this proposal. So the Parliamentary Secretary noted on the memorandum “Please put up on priority” dated May 5, 2010. Very prompt! The reason: They were looking for a way to deviate from our community stand, which is either push back the Namdapha National Park’s boundary or resettle the ex-servicemen from Vijoynagar. To both, they became silent and no response.
In addition, the memorandum addressed as if the land shortage is only for those 84 families. It is not – it is the whole community issue. Why not when we are crunched within a distance of seven km? A survey by the Department of Environment and Forest in 2004 found the fact of land shortage among the Lisu community.
When the ADC Miao called the meeting on September 19, 2010, a land was already identified at 10th Mile, to which we totally rejected.
In that meeting, the ten people who signed and submitted the memorandum were no where. The two primary leaders were in the villages! Basically they ran away.
So then the patch work had to be done by someone else. At that time, several of our leaders at Miao under the leadership of Phusa responded efficiently.
Our society has interesting people. They create problems and then disappear.
I wonder why those ten representatives proposed the options either give good land or recognize the villages to such high officials. Is there ego problem – do they want to project their name in some way?
Is it possible that some people (someone) is brainwashing, giving bad ideas so that we will meddle our own mess?
Time will tell. I will look out for that.