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The park has lost the support of the social and political milieu that surrounds it
This summer brought sad news from the Kaziranga National Park. The heavy floods in Assam, which came in several phases, led to the deaths of wild animals in the reserve. This was followed by rampant poaching of the one-horned rhinoceros that inhabits the park, which led to widespread public anger. Public debates and demonstrations sought urgent government intervention and demanded that the poaching be controlled immediately. The Assam government subsequently announced several measures to address the problem, including the provision of firearms for the park protection squad. Public anger has since subsided. It will not surge up again unless another round of floods next year brings similar disasters. What is missing from this debate is not only the specificities of the intricate eco-system of the Kaziranga National Park, but also a number of related issues that need some attention.
First, and most unfortunate, the increasing disconnect between the park management and the social milieu that surrounds the park has now become noticeable. Kaziranga is circled by an agrarian landscape, intensely cultivated for paddy. This means permanent human settlement around the park. However, the flow of visitors to the park, and the increasing international presence in the tourism sector, have emboldened the park management. Politically powerful groups with stakes in the park have successfully appropriated the new economic opportunities created by the swelling crowd of tourists. Most beneficiaries are alien to the local milieu. This has greatly eroded social support for the park. With peasants and small traders having lost out on the economic gains, it increasingly faces a crisis of legitimacy.
Local people have also complained that the unregulated flow of tourists has disrupted the natural tranquility of the reserve, but the political economy of the park has no space for such considerations. The entry of outside economic interests has also resulted in a broad nexus among various interest groups. There are frequent reports alleging that local politicians are party to this nexus, one which has helped in the growth of industries based on mining and quarrying. The ecological costs of such industries are considerable.
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