Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Forget naxalites, here’s a real jumbo problem

Sujay Mehdudia

The Maoists may have hogged the headlines in these elections, but in the forests of Jharkhand bordering West Bengal and Orissa, it’s the elephants that are a bigger problem.

Ever since Jharkhand became an independent State in 2000, rampaging elephant herds in the forest areas have claimed nearly 800 lives. They are a source of concern to the authorities conducting the polls in tribal areas.
In fact, even the city of Jamshedpur has not been left untouched; all along the Dumka, Sahibgang, Jamshedpur-Dumka and Chaibasa belt and in the Shikaripada and Jamtara areas, the jumbo problem is a serious one, and the villagers are demanding protection from the animals.

The herds march through the jungle areas unhindered and destroy standing crops, houses and claim human lives on their way. People in these areas live in fear, and despite efforts by the administration to deal with the situation, nothing has changed for them. “The State has a forest cover of around 32 per cent and this enviable situation has become a curse for the villagers living in the forest tracts along the borders of West Bengal and Orissa,” according to Raj Singh Munda of Singhbhum.

People say that given a choice between the Maoists and elephants, they would prefer to kill the latter first. Although the price rise, law and order, development, power, roads and water are major issues, the most important issue here is the elephant menace. Forest officials said that people were being supplied kerosene oil to burn when the elephants approach their villages, but that this does not always work.

A proposal for getting Kumki elephants from Orissa to train the rampaging elephants has been hanging fire for years. People often spend the nights on trees out of fear; there are cases where women have delivered babies on makeshift tree houses.

Of the 14 Lok Sabha constituencies in the State, the elephant menace is a major issue in at least five: Ranchi, Khunti, Hazaribagh, Chaibasa (Singhbhum) and Dumka. Of the total 24 districts of the State, at least 13 districts are affected. In many areas the villagers have put up posters demanding action from political parties and the administration for their tusker-related problems. Although political parties have in the past promised action, nothing has changed. The villagers are no longer ready to believe in promises. What they want is action.

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