Jumbo jolt for local satraps ahead of assembly election (Singlijan, India)


Times of India 

Date Published

Thirty villages of the Gohpur assembly constituency have been jolted out of helplessness by a simple battery-operated electric fence locally known as ‘jhatka’.

The ‘jhatka’ has not only prevented herds of wild elephants from ravaging crops in these hamlets along the Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border, it has silenced local satraps who were looking to exploit human-elephant conflict ahead of the assembly election.

This is not the first time that electric fencing has been used to keep away wild elephants from damaging crops, but earlier efforts proved ineffective primarily due to lack of maintenance of the fence. Low-intensity current is passed through the wires to deter elephants without harming them.

This year, however, the forest department, WWF-India and local group District Community Development Programme (DCDP) made villagers an integral part of the management and maintenance of the 6.5-km electric fence they set up in August, 2015. The move instilled in them a sense of ownership and ensured the success of the project.

“After almost 10 years, we have been able to take our harvest home this winter. The jhatka saved our lives and paddy. People are happy,” said Ajit Basumatary of Jalukbari village, one of the villages affected by frequent human-elephant conflict.

Coordinator of WWF-India’s North Bank Landscape Hiten Kumar Baishya said including locals as stakeholders in the success of the ‘jhatka’ worked wonders. “There is nothing new in terms of technology. The strength of this mechanism is that people are actively involved in it,” he said.

Anil Baruah, head of local group Hati Surakhya Samiti of Jalukbari, said the ‘jhatka’ had robbed politicians of a vital issue to milk ahead of the election. “The jhatka was successful because people were involved in the initiative. We want to carry on in this way in future. These days, politicians are not making much noise about human-elephant conflict,” he smiled.

Villagers of Gohpur have always bore the brunt of human-elephant conflict but it had intensified in the last decade. Every year, elephants from Arunachal come down to feast on crops in these villages, formed around 30 years ago after clearing forests. Large-scale deforestation has led to frequent clashes between man and elephant and massive destruction of crop land. Last year, one elephant and two people died in human-elephant conflict.

Earlier, there were five reserved forests under the east Sonitpur forest division covering 47,428 hectare of land. Of this, 37,595 hectare area of reserved forest has been encroached upon. Clearing of forest cover began from the 1980s, and today, only two reserved forests Singlijan and Behali are yet to be fully overrun by people. The entire area is part of the Kameng-Sonitpur elephant reserve.

Sonitpur east divisional forest officer Suvasish Das said 2014 was one of the worst years in terms of human-elephant conflict. “People had become very restive and would attack our staff. They would humiliate us. We conducted 38 drives to chase away jumbos in three monthslast year, the highest in recent memory,” Das said.

Forest officials said the let-up in human-elephant conflict could not have come at a more appropriate time. “It’s election time. At least we are spared the pressure from politicians. Had the conflict continued as it did in 2014, it would have been tough for us,” a forest official said.