Rich Shirui forests` biodiversity at stake

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New Shirui-Mapum road sows seeds of destruction on Ukhrul`s richest rainforest

By R Lester Makang

UKHRUL, April 29:  In an era where density of highways, roads and other such communication links is considered an important benchmark of development everywhere, we are witnessing an upward trend in building or expanding highways and roads across towns, villages and rural interiors of Manipur. Correspondingly, the impact that this surge in road building has on the environment is also growing at an alarming rate and in cases where roads cut through dense forest regions, it could directly cause unplanned damages to the areas ` ecology beyond redemption.

A case in point is the fast degradation of the previously rich Shirui hills which is home to rich and unique biodiversity of the state including the famous Shirui Lily, Shirui tiger and various flora and fauna. The newly built inter village road spreading 30 kms across the Shirui Kashong`s wilderness connecting Shirui village and Mapum village in northern Ukhrul is directly blamed for the current large scale deforestation in the area.

Constructed in the year 2006-2007 under PMGSY, the  IV road cuts through the heart of the Shirui`s deep rainforest causing immesurable damages rendering a vast portions of the forest open, dry and hotter. “The first and biggest blunder committed in destruction of the forest and wildlife in the area has been the opening of the IV road which then opens up Pandora` s box giving easy access for commercial activities like timber trading etc.” observed L Willington, headman of Shirui Aze.

“But this was permitted long ago as a goodwill gesture on our part and also considering the hardships of our neighbouring village,” he maintained.

Another factor that hinders a consensual approach to checking deforestation is the distribution of land ownership practised among the inhabitants of Shirui village.

“Ninety per cent of land spanning the deep forest belongs private owners, while public lands comprises only 10 per cent” Willington said while adding that which is why the Village Authority has little control over those privately owned lands where trees are felled with the consent of the owner.

The difficulty then lies in the fact that the current rampant deforestation across the Shirui hills are basically due to subsistence related activities. “Unless means of subsistence is secured for each private owner, we cannot stop them. The state government must adopt a special policy to preserve the forest and plan out an alternative means for the poor villagers who solely depend on the natural resources for their economic activities before it is too late” pleaded a village elder on condition of anonymity.

Significantly, the current water crisis in Ukhrul town is directly attributed to unplanned deforestation in Shirui hills which remain the sole water source for the township. Four rivers originating from the thick Shirui hills namely, Yangkong river and Maret kongrei which flow down into Loktak lake in Manipur and Shangkong and Razik kong flowing into Myanmar territory have severely depleted in recent years. “These Water sources have gone down by nearly 50 per cent in volume after construction of the said road,” Willngton asserted.

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