Assam now is the state with the second highest number of national parks in the country, after Madhya Pradesh's 11. The Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar has nine national parks.

Assam’s Dehing Patkai wildlife sanctuary, in the eye of a controversy last year following allegations of illegal coal mining, was Wednesday notified as a national park. The announcement comes shortly after Raimona reserve forest in western Assam’s Kokrajhar district was upgraded to a national park on June 5.

“We had five national parks — Kaziranga, Nameri, Orang, Manas and Dibru-Saikhowa. With Raimona and Dehing Patkai, we will now have seven,” said Assam Forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya, addressing a press conference on Wednesday.

Suklabaidya said that the new parks would help promote conservation efforts and aid tourism and agriculture sectors as well. He added that Assam now is the state with the second highest number of national parks in the country, after Madhya Pradesh’s 11. The Union Territory of Andaman and Nicobar has nine national parks.

The 111.942-sqkm Dehing Patkai wildlife sanctuary (notified in 2004) is located inside the larger Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve, which spreads across Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Sivasagar districts of Upper Assam — rich in coal and oil — and is believed to be the last remaining contiguous patch of lowland rainforest area in Assam.

As a national park, it will now include additional reserve forests (western block of theUpper Dihing RF and Jeypore RF) and measure 234.26 sq. km. Forest Village area diverted under Forest Conservation Act has been excluded, said a release from the Department of Environment and Forests.

Known for its elephant population, Dehing Patkai has 47 mammal species, 47 reptile species and 310 butterfly species. The area is especially a draw for ornithologists since it is said to have the highest concentration of the rare endangered White Winged Wood Duck.

The Raimona national park is surrounded by the Phipsoo Wildlife Sanctuary in Bhutan to its north, the Buxa Tiger Reserve in West Bengal to its west and the Manas National Park to its east. “With eleven different forest types and subtypes, the area is home to the golden langurs, elephants, tiger, clouded leopard, several species of orchids and has more than 150 species of butterflies, 170 species of birds besides 380 species of plants,” the release said.

Last year in April, Dehing Patkai was in focus after a series of virtual protests highlighted rampant illegal coal mining in the area. The immediate trigger was the National Board of Wildlife’s (NBWL) conditional clearance to a coal mining project by Coal India Limited (CIL) in the Dehing Patkai Elephant Reserve (of which the wildlife sanctuary is a part). It led to North Eastern Coalfields (NEC), the CIL subsidiary, temporarily suspending all mining operations in the region.

The decision to upgrade it to a national park was announced by the Sarbananda Sonowal government in July 2020, just months after the controversy.

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