Hours after a female elephant had died after writhing in pain for over 24 hours in a pit at a project site of Patanjali Herbal and Mega Food Park near Tezpur, Assam forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma on Thursday instructed forest officials to lodge an FIR against the Ramdev firm by holding it responsible for the incident.
“It is a very tragic incident. While the area is known for frequent elephant movement, what appears is that the industrial park land given to Patanjali is actually part of an elephant corridor. Local people too have said that elephant movement has been there for decades. I have asked my department officials to lodge an FIR against the company which is setting up a factory there,” minister Brahma told The Indian Express.
The minister also described the ‘attitude’ of the Patanjali officials as insensitive to conservation and wildlife. “Everybody in that area knows that there are several herds of wild elephants in there. The people implementing the project should have taken extra precaution. Why did they leave such huge pits unattended? It is nothing but sheer negligence and insensitivity. They have taken the matter very lightly,” Brahma said.
Forest officials had organised several cranes and excavators to widen the pit and shift the injured elephant to the Centre for Wildlife Rehabilitation & Conservation (CWRC) at Kaziranga, about 60 kms away. But the elephant, which was bleeding from the trunk responded very poorly to the vets, and passed away early Thursday morning. Her two-month old calf was shifted to the CWRC.
Speaking on behalf of Patanjali, Udayaditya Goswami said that the area, which was notified as an industrial park of AIDC in the 1990s, was not an elephant corridor, but herds of elephants do come down from Arunachal Pradesh during the harvest season to feed on ripe paddy. “We are aware of the elephant movement and so had deployed six persons to keep a watch on it. But unfortunately, two elephants fell into a 9-feet pit after a calf fell first early Wednesdaymorning,” he said. Goswami also said that Patanjali would soon raise a herbal garden covering about 28,000 bigha land inside adjoining Arunachal Pradesh, which would also serve as a refuge for elephants.
Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali Herbal and Mega Food Park was allotted 150 acres of land by the Assam government in the AIDC complex at Balipara near Tezpur, and it was only on November 6 that chief minister Sarbananda Sonowal had laid the foundation stone of the project in the presence of most of his cabinet colleagues. The yoga guru too was present in the function. The 6.57 lakh MTPA food park, which promises to generate 4,000 jobs, will manufacture a wide range of products including cosmetics, nutrition and kitchen essentials.
Though conservation groups and forest officials have said that the industrial estate where land was allotted Patanjali was not a notified elephant corridor, minister Brahma said there was scope for notifying more elephant corridors across the state, especially in view of increasing human-elephant conflict. The Patanjali food park site is situated within 20 kms of Nameri National Park and 30 kms of Sonai-Rupai wildlife sanctuary.
“With so many incidents of people attacking and causing death and injury to elephants occurring in recent times, I think there is scope for re-looking into the issue and notifying more areas elephant corridors,” she said. At least 10 wild elephants have died as a result of human-elephant conflict across Assam in the current year.