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24 Years and Counting: Zeilad Wildlife Sanctuary Faces Opposition Amid Delayed Declaration

Last Updated on October 20, 2023 by SPN Editor

Tamenglong/ October 18, 2023 (SPN) | The proposed declaration of Zeilad as a wildlife sanctuary has triggered opposition from the Zeilad Wildlife Sanctuary Affected Villages (ZWSAV), who express concerns about the displacement of thousands of residents in the region. ZWSAV strongly condemns the notification issued by the Tamenglong Deputy Commissioner (DC) without prior communication with the affected communities. They are now demanding the revocation of this notification.

In a recent press release, ZWSAV revealed that an emergency meeting took place on October 16 at the Tamenglong headquarters to address the latest notification issued by the Tamenglong DC regarding the rights and settlements within Zeilad Wildlife Sanctuary. This meeting was attended by the chairpersons, secretaries, and youth representatives from all affected villages.

The dispute arises from a round table conference held on July 3, 2023, at the DC’s office, during which it was agreed that the DC would convey to higher authorities the majority’s opposition to the declaration of Zeilad Wildlife Sanctuary. Despite this assurance, the DC proceeded to issue further notifications without community consent.

ZWSAV emphasizes the presence of multiple procedural lapses leading up to the notification of Zeilad Wildlife Sanctuary. They call upon individuals with vested interests working with the government for the sanctuary’s declaration to withdraw all related documents promptly in the best interests of the Naga community. The committee cautions that they will not be held responsible for any untoward incidents resulting from this dispute.

The United Naga Council (UNC), Rongmei Naga Club Manipur (RNCM), Rongmei Naga Youth Organization Manipur (RNYOM), Rongmei Naga Students’ Organization Manipur (RNSOM), Rongmei Naga Liangmai Pui (RNLPM), and other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have strongly condemned the state government’s actions in declaring wildlife sanctuaries and protected forests without the consent of the people in Naga-inhabited areas.

Despite the proposal to declare Zeilad Wildlife Sanctuary being made nearly 24 years ago, the state government has to wait for more years due to the incomplete land settlement process. Notably, several villages have been established within and near the proposed sanctuary.

The Zeilad Forest in Tamenglong district was initially proposed to be declared the “Zeilad Wildlife Sanctuary” by the Manipur government on April 4, 1997. This sanctuary, covering 21 square kilometers, is situated approximately 20 kilometers from Tamenglong’s headquarters.

The initial notification for this proposed wildlife sanctuary was issued under Section 18, sub-section (1) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, recognizing its rich ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological, natural, and zoological significance.

The significance of the Zeilad forest stems from its seven lakes, diverse fish species, migratory bird habitats, including the Amur Falcon, a rich variety of flora and fauna, and the stunning seven-step Barak waterfall. These attributes led to the proposal for its designation as a wildlife sanctuary.

According to information from the state forest department, this proposed sanctuary is situated at an altitude ranging from 372 meters to 1053 meters. Its geographical coordinates fall between 93 degrees 20 minutes to 93 degrees East longitude and 24 degrees 30 minutes to 24 degrees 55 minutes North latitude.

Official records note the presence of seven lakes within this sanctuary, including Zeilad, Guiphuapzei, Nrouzei, Tuangpuizei, Goulungzei, and Napsemzei. However, only four lakes, namely Zeilad, Napsemzei, Guiphuapzei, and Nrouzei, remain visible today. Changing ecological conditions have led to the drying up of some of these lakes.

The largest among these lakes is Zeilad Lake, covering an area of around 8 hectares, with a reported depth of about 130 feet in its deepest part, and it’s known for housing pythons. To reach this lake, one must cross the Barak River by boat and then trek for approximately 2 kilometers.

The Zeilad forest is a habitat for various wildlife, including tigers, leopards, leopard cats, small Indian Civets, Common Langurs, Hoolock gibbons, great Indian hornbills, barking deer, flying squirrels, slow lorises, golden cats, yellow-throated martens, large Indian civet cats, hog badgers, bears, serows, and sambars, among others.

The Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972 stipulates that the land acquisition process must be completed within two years from the date of the initial declaration’s notification. This delay has raised concerns about the degradation of the Zeilad forest.