Villagers try to close down forest office (Kolhapur, India)


Nikhil Deshmukh, Times of India

Date Published

Villagers from Chandgad tehsil on Thursday tried to lock up officials in the Patne range office to protest the forest department’s sluggish response in controlling the elephant menace in the area. Sub-divisional officer Kunal Khemnar intervened and controlled crowd.

Villagers have said that they are fed up with forest department’s promises to control wild elephants from causing damage in the area. The villagers from Here, Patne, Nandwade, Shewale and Parle had gathered around the office demanding its immediate closure since, they alleged, the officials were not preventing frequent elephant attacks.

A meeting will be held on Tuesday (February 16) at the office of Gadhinglaj sub-divisional office. Some forest officials are also expected to attend. Rangnath Naikade, deputy conservator of forests, confirmed the incident and said that he would try to attend the meeting in Gadhinglaj to solve the issue. The forest department is working on various solutions to the jumbo menace.

Santosh Malvikar, one of the protesters, said, “It has become impossible for us to make a living from our crops. The elephants live inside the forest and raid our plantations at night. They do not leave the fields immediately if we make loud noises. If they get angry, they damage the crops, harvested material, bullock carts and other equipment. The compensation is a paltry sum.”

He said the villagers are unable to repay their dues which include labour charges for harvesting crops, preparing the land for the next round of farming and others. “The government’s compensation amount is low and of no use to us,” he said.

From 2003-04 till December 1, 2015, there have been four deaths in the district while nine persons received severe injuries due to elephant attacks. The state government paid Rs 8 lakh to the families of the deceased while the injured persons received Rs 4.15 lakh compensation.

In the current financial year, from April to December 1, 2015, 600 cases of elephants damaging crops were registered. The numbers are likely to increase with the looming water scarcity.

After a dismal show by the monsoon, the elephant menace began in September with water supply in the forests drying up. The issue worsened and member of legislative assembly Sandhyadevi Desai (Kupekar) was forced to call for a meeting with the chief conservator of forest (wildlife) M K Rao a month ago.

Following the meeting, a team from Pune-based NGO, Wildlife Research and Conservation Society, was roped in. They held one session each at Chandgad and Ajara on dealing with the elephants. The villagers have been demanding a permanent solution, but the slow administrative procedures are annoying them further since the delay in assessing the damage affects the farmers’ yield.

Another cause for worry in the area is elephants chased away from one village often go rampaging into neighbouring villages.Farmers maintained that there have been no major efforts taken to solve the problem; hence they are forced to undertake such action.