The Northeast region of the country is a vast repository of wide variety of orchids many of which are threatened, as manipulative traders are doing precious damage to this wonderful treasure of nature
The Northeastern region houses a large number of ornamental, endangered and threatened orchid species. Among these only 10 are protected under Schedule 6 of the Wild Life Conservation(WLC) Act of 1972 which was amended in 1992.
Now, what we have to bear in mind in the present context is that the orchids offer tremendous business potential. If systematic attention is given to protection and cultivation of orchids, entrepreneurs can benefit with adequate foreign investment. This, in turn might help strengthen the economic infrastructure of the region specifically and country in general.
Generally, orchids have ornamental and medicinal values. For cut flower business, cultivation of orchids can be idea since there has been a consistent demand for them in the hospitality sector, affluent households and at public and private events etc. Orchids are now the preferred flower (next only to roses, lilies and carnations) for gifting purposes too. The growing e-commerce sector is also cashing in on flowers as gifts on special occasions and orchids are finding a lot of takers.
An orchid can be used as a flavouring agent and so finds usage in the perfume industry as well. Some indigenous tribes in Assam employ Bulbophyllum Caryanum(a variant of orchid) as a sexual stimulant though sufficient research needs to be done to prove its efficacy.
Orchids have great importance in the international market and hybrids of Indian origin particularly are in great demand.
However, over exploitation may lead to extinction as in the case of some consumer countries in Asia. So the scientists in India are of the opinion that the commercial exploitation of orchids should not be encouraged.
Notwithstanding this, for sustainable growth, orchids can be grown through tissue culture method in laboratories in large numbers and later introduced to their natural habitats for subsequent regeneration.
But unfortunately many orchid traders in our country, go for large scale profits, often unethically resorting to wanton destruction of these beautiful flowers from their natural habitat. The new bio-diversity law enacted in 2004 may give some protection but the it hasn’t been implemented due to vested interests of the enforcement agencies who have clandestine agreements with orchid traders.
Manipulative settings have been found to be working under the table at the highest level, among the wild life policy makers of the country who are at their best engaged in curtailing some endangered species from Schedule 6 of the Indian Wild Life Act.
A section of the officials is allegedly trying to incorporate the same in the free listing trade sector. The orchids which are rare, important and as such worth crores of rupees in business should not be listed in this category.
The latest move has enabled the traders of the country to export orchids abroad without passing through rigid legislation. These traders are obviously taking advantage of the lacunae in law as they can export these endangered flora without too much trouble.
Sources speaking to EastIndiaStory on condition of anonymity reveal that in the meeting of National Body for Wild Life(NBWL) there was a consensus arrived at for providing protection to more plants under the Act.
While top officials stressed on the need for augmentation of the WPA schedule, the suggestion was countered with the argument that since the Botanical Survey of India’s list of plants regarding the protection is quite long, there had to be priority-based selection of the plant species.
Hence, the concerned committee primarily attempted to shortlist such plants. Interestingly, contrary to the decision arrived at the last meeting, a new proposal was floated for delisting of such plants that will be given priority, like Sanssurea Costus(tappa) and some other orchid species.
The recommendations of NBWL to remove the entire orchidaceae which consists of several vulnerable and endangered species like lady’s slipper, blue vanda, red vanda, cymbidiums, dendrobiums have been mentioned with emphasis.
The proposed recommendations to exclude species under consideration would eventually lead to exclusion of those from Convention of International Trades of Endangered Species(CITES) of Wild Flora and Fauna and finally jeopardise their survival in the wild, due to liberalized international trade.
Sources suggest that for exclusion or inclusion of orchids of Northeast India, experts from the region need to be consulted as others have hardly any field experience on the exploration of plants in the region.
Those experts who have expressed genuine concern over this, have sought inclusion of Vanda Coerulea, Paphiopedilum Spicerianum and some other species in the 6th Schedule, in view of the current poor status of their existing wild population.
Since there are a large number of orchid-rich pockets in the Northeast – particularly in Assam, forest reservoirs and sanctuaries need to be established in the area, experts feel.
Moreover, to take up the task of protection, conservation and management of plant resources in the region, effective mode of communication has to be made with the local people, forest department, Botanical Survey of India(BSI) concerned universities and research institutions.
There ought to be a general consensus which needs to be thrashed out at the earliest or this flower may just find itself in folklore of literature in future.
Photographs by Rimi Bhattacharya and Hiramoni Sankar
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The author has served no less than Al Jazeera and German TV, and India’s Parliamentarian magazine among others! To his credit goes a deep-rooted empathy for social issues and humans. He has wide experience in covering the northeast of India. His coverage on the 2020 Amphan cyclone in eastern India has easily been the best around the world