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Majuli to become an eco-sensitive zone

Apr 07, 2010

Asia’s largest river island is soon expected to be declared as an eco-sensitive zone. Union Minister for Forests and Environment has asked the state government to send a detailed proposal and assured that they would take steps to conserve the region’s bio-diversity and its culture.

Majuli: The World Heritage Site tag may take time to come, if ever, but the Centre is expected to declare this river island an eco-sensitive zone soon.

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The state government should send us a detailed proposal for declaring it an eco-sensitive zone,” Union minister for forests and environment Jairam Ramesh said today on his maiden visit to Asia’s largest inhabited river island.

He said declaring Majuli an eco-sensitive zone would be the first step towards recognising its rich cultural heritage and bio-diversity.

“Majuli is known for its rich culture but its bio-diversity is also spectacular,” he said to cheers from the people who had assembled at Uttar Kamalabari satra to welcome him. “We will see that the declaration of eco-sensitive zone does not disturb the lifestyle and practices of the residents,” he added

The minister’s assurance, in fact, came on a representation by local residents who wanted Majuli to be declared an eco-sensitive zone.

State forest minister Rockybul Hussain, who accompanied Ramesh, said the government would discuss the matter with different departments to take the process forward.

An important component of an eco-sensitive zone is that development activities are regulated within an area of at least 10km. A notification issued in 1996 had declared an area of 15 square km around Numaligarh Refinery as a “no development zone” in order to limit the pollution level. Quarrying and mining are also restricted in an eco-sensitive zone.

Ramesh said he would request Bombay Natural History Society to conduct a comprehensive study on the avian bio-diversity of the area.

“It is a unique eco-system like Kaziranga and hence needs to be protected,” he said. The 13th Finance Commission has granted Rs 5 crore for preserving the rich cultural heritage of the area. The minister had on Sunday announced a Rs 50-crore package for the protection and development of Majuli.

Ramesh, who had visited Sunderbans in January, said, “Both are fantastic. The only difference is the high river level in Majuli.”

The minister was moved by the cultural items presented to him at the Uttar Kamalabari satra and impressed by the manuscripts shown to him. Satradhikar Janardan Deva Goswami apprised him of the daily life and activities of the satra in Hindi.

Ramesh also inaugurated a tourist centre built at a cost of Rs 2 crore at Kamalabari.

Majuli is the principal place of pilgrimage for Vaishnavites in the state since Sankardev started preaching Vaishnavism from the island in the 16th century. There are several satras of Vaishnava creed on the island. Of these holy seats, Auniati, Dakhinpat, Garmur and Uttar Kamalabari are the most prominent.

At present, there are 22 satras in Majuli. Others had to move out to the mainland under the onslaught of the Brahmaputra, which, ironically, cradles the island.

Attempts have been made to get the UNESCO to declare Majuli as a world heritage site, but so far these have not borne fruit. After losing the battle in 2006, the Centre re-nominated Majuli for inscription in the World Heritage Site List in 2008.

Ramesh said his visit was also a small mark of respect to social activist and environmentalist Sanjoy Ghose, who had set up the NGO Avard NE on the island to mitigate its problem of floods. Ghose was killed by Ulfa in 1997 and his body, according to the CBI chargesheet, was chopped and dumped into the very river he was trying to tame, not long after he had set foot on the island.

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