When Lham Tsering photographed two black-necked cranes in December last year, in the Zemithang area of Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang district, it did not take him much time to realize that the graceful birds had much more to them than the religious significance.
The Buddhist Monpa tribe in the state welcome the arrival of the black-necked crane as messenger of good fortune. They revere the bird as an embodiment of the sixth Dalai Lama (Gyalwa Tsangyang Gyatso), a Monpa hailing from Tawang.
However, for the Buddhist lamas who are opposing the proposed 780-MW Nyamjang Chhu hydroelectric project, the arrival of black-necked cranes this season is an incontrovertible evidence that the site, where the dam has been proposed, is a place where the birds winter.
A short 3-km stretch along the Nyamjang Chhu, between Brokenthang and Zemithang, is one such site where black-necked cranes take shelter during winter. It is also a proposed project site. The birds started arriving in the stretch from mid-December last year.
“Villagers and members of our organization have sighted and even photographed black-necked cranes this winter. The arrival of the cranes in the place, where the hydropower project is proposed, proves beyond doubt that the area is a winter refuge for the birds. These birds have immense cultural, religious and ecological significance for our people,” Buddhist lama and Save Mon Region Federation (SMRF) general secretary Lobsang Gyatso said.
The Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has identified the stretch as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Villagers have, for the last eight years, been documenting the birds on the stretch. The globally-threatened species is included in the Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
The Buddhist lamas, under SMRF banner, had filed a case before the National Green Tribunal in 2012 against the environmental clearance given to the project. One of SMRF’s contentions was that the project developers allegedly did not disclose during environmental clearance that the site was actually the winter habitat of the black-necked cranes.
Naresh Mitra, TOI/TNN