(This is the first part of three sequential ‘posts’ by Sonali Ghosh, a PhD student looking at the use of geospatial technology for mapping tiger habitat in the Indo-Bhutan Manas Tiger Conservation Landscape)
It was a hot and sultry day of July 2008, when, while surveying the steep hillside of Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary in Kokrajhar, I was taken to the spot where a tiger had been shot dead. Insaan Ali, a casual worker with the forest department and an avid tracker reminisced the incident of 2002-03, when woodcutters had accidentally bumped into a sleeping, and perhaps, starving old tiger.
The tiger was so massive that people from far away came to see the great beast as it was taken away for its final burial. At present, there are no more tigers left in these or adjoining forest areas in lower Assam, India.
Scores of analytical and political reports on the recent ethnic violence in Kokrajhar have been published (1). Most blame the illegal immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh as the main reason for the ethnic strife. The mass migration of people with different socio-linguistic and religious allegiance is perceived as a threat to Bodoland’s prime and only economic resource; land (2).
(1): Kokrajhar town has been the hub of Bodo-muslim clash that has lasted for more than a month (July-August 2012) and has resulted in numerous deaths and large scale damage to property://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-19420280. (2): Bodoland or BTC is a popular term for Bodoland Territorial Areas District (BTAD) an autonomous district council carved within the province of Assam. It comprises of 4 districts namely, Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri and has a dominant population of Bodo tribals. The first elected government for BTAD came to power in 2005.
Since agricultural land is a static resource that cannot be generated anew; the source of this newfound land where non-natives can settle down remains an open secret. Bodos have been practising settled cultivation for centuries and hence families would have possessed permanent land records for some generations.
There also haven’t been any recent major natural upheavals that the region is prone to, such as earthquakes and floods, although there have been reports of massive siltation of water bodies and erosion which has deteriorated the overall quality of land available for cultivation. It is therefore an inconvenient truth, that state-owned land stripped of its wild animals and then the tree-cover becomes available for individual consumption.
Some analysts do point out to the historical blunders by the state while addressing the demands of the local people in the last two centuries. It is difficult to visualise how the area would have looked prior to 1826, when the historic treaty of Yandaboo to amalgamate the princely states of Assam and Burma in British India was signed. However, if the present day National Parks such as Manas in the vicinity are any representative of the habitat, then the area would have had vast stretches of riverine grasslands, lush impregnable forests and large mammals such as elephants, rhinos, wild buffaloes and tigers roaming around in the area.