West Bengal: Wild elephants stray into Midnapore, destroy crops


Manogya Loiwal, India Today

Date Published


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Fears of constant raids, rampages, deaths by wild jumbos have gripped hundreds of villagers in West Bengal and this is now having a telling result on their economy and sustenance too.

Wild elephant herds have been spreading terror across more than three hundred villages in three districts of the state. Right from West Midnapore to Bankura to Purulia, the raging man-elephant conflict has wrecked havoc in the lives of the people and is becoming a major cause of concern.

“The elephants have been causing a lot of trouble; they destroy crops and everything around them. I had a pond. They trampled on it, making it unfit for use after that,” said Panchanang Mahato, a villager.

According to locals, the elephants mostly venture out in herds after sunset. They often run amok the villages, killing people, flattening huts, compelling villagers to respond with firecrackers and bonfires.

“The elephants have caused a lot of damage to us. I would request the authorities to help us out so that the animals won’t cause further damage to the crops. If around 25-30 people come together to scare the elephants, only then we can chase them away. A few days ago, forest officials helped us scare away a herd. But later, the animals returned,” said Pran Krishna Mahato, another villager.

“The elephants are destroying the crops. They come in the evening and trample over the crops. Everything is destroyed,” said Rashbehari Mahato.

No doubt, the gigantic animal has inflicted heavy casualties in the villages. However, according to Anjan Guha, Divisional Forest Officer, Kharagpur, massive deforestation, poaching and encroachment on forest corridors are perhaps the possible reasons behind the elephant trouble.

“I would say the biggest issue is the damage they cause to the crops. Let’s say there are about 150 elephants crossing a crop land, if they eat away the crops and demolish the grounds, it causes great loss to the farmers,” Anjan said.

“Call it the lack of food and basic supply required for the largest mammal on land, that it is very difficult for the villagers to even get a hint about their (elephant’s) next move,” he added.

Forest officials categorise the elephants entering the region into two, migratory and residential. There are nearly 200 elephants in the area out of which 140 of them are migratory, that is, have come from the Dalma forest in the nearby state. The remaining are residential. Usually the male elephant turns into residential while the Dalma’s are the roaming herd.

“We do not have the same economic situation as before. And now we do not get money as well. The government authorities have also not really extended a helping hand to us. The elephants come and damage the crops,” said Samir Mondal.

Simultaneous to inflicting heavy casualties, the jumbo’s crop-raiding activity is also a major threat to the economy of the village. The mammoth animals, that weigh nearly 2000 kilograms each, uproot trees and invade into farmer’s fields and destroy the crops. The farmers are feeling anything but friendly towards these tuskers who were once known for sharing a socio-cultural relationship with the villagers.

“The elephants have been entering our villages for many years now. They mostly come after we leave the fields in the evening. They roam around and trample over the crops. They have claimed several lives too,” said Ranjit Kumar Rana.

What many are not aware of is that the marauding jumbos often guzzle the country liquor stored. The tipsy jumbos stray into the village areas, resulting in a trail of massive destruction.

“We often conduct awareness campaigns in villages regarding the elephants. They also come to a ‘mast’ mode during mating period. But more than that it is the scent of liquor that draws them towards the villages. So we advise the villagers to not keep liquor with them,” said Anjan Guha.

On the menace in Midnapore, Srikant Mahato, an MLA from Salboni Assembly Constituency said, “With time, people have become accustomed and more cautious towards elephant trouble and along with forest officials, adopt precautionary measures.”

“People are now aware of the situation, so when there is an attack, people tend to be cautious. In addition to the government, we have the forest department people to help us too,” the MLA said.

To ensure the crisis does not slip out of hand, the government has deployed mobile squads and hullah parties. The hullah party basically consists of children, who shout each time they spot an elephant, following which the mobile squad is pressed into action. The hullah party are the ones which carry inflammable material with kerosene oil. They burn the material and keep the smoke smothering for a while to ward off the elephants. The sound of the crackers also help to get rid of the tuskers.

There is another trick to warding off the jumbos. Elephants often use a defined route to escape. So it is important to keep this route clear for their immediate dispersal.

The government claims to work in the direction of controlling the menace by increasing the forest cover.

 “Around five years ago, we had planned a Mayurjharna elephant reserve. The plan was to keep the elephants concentrated in the forests so that they do not stray into the villages. It is almost 450 square kilometres and it is spread across West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia. The management plan is to get approved this year and it will be there for the next 5-10 years. We also have plans of habitat improvement and soil moisture conservation,” said Anjan Guha.

The State Board for Wildlife and government of India have approved the Mayurjharna elephant reserve covering the Bankura, Purulia and Midnapore districts of West Bengal. The reserve is expected to improve the quality of forest cover and also provide good food and water to the mammals in the next five years.

However, this too appears to be a mere assurance like any other promises from the past. According to the Forest Survey of India, the state forest cover has increased by 1.3 per cent Bengal. But the figure does not really reflect on the growing jumbo menace. Despite the measures that the government say to have adopted and efforts to increase forest cover, the situation remains unchanged.

In Bengal, the most affected regions under the Midnapore division are Salboni, Gadra, Vatomore, Kalsibhanga, Murakata, Gramal, Chandra, Peechak, Buripala. The Kharagpur division includes Chandrakona, Mahespur, Vagabantapur, Vairabpur, Panchhora, Chalogori while Grabeta, Raskunda, Mayrakata, Fulberia, Goaltore, Kharikasuli, Bankadaha under the Rupnarayan division also face the same issue.

“This time, in South Bengal, there are nearly 140-150 elephants from Dalma. In total, there are roughly around 180-200 elephants. The food habits of these elephants have changed. Elephant deaths also occur during accidents. There is a conflicting situation now between the humans and the elephants here,” said Anjan Guha.

Wide ditches and deep trenches at the Odisha border have further aggravated the crisis, making it impossible for the jumbos to venture into another territory.

“The elephants usually come from Jharkhand and Dalma. We have seen in the last three years that they are also moving to Odisha. One reason could be that this has become a migratory pattern for these elephants. They are getting food in our area; the forest cover is good too. So perhaps this is why they prefer to stay here. We had requested the Odisha government but there appears to be some sort of a miscommunication. We have also approached the government of India,” said Anjan Guha.

“The deep forests of Jharkhand and Orissa were destroyed in the mining in that area. And here in West Bengal, our areas in Purulia, Bankura and Midnapore have got cultivated crop-lands. So it is obvious that the elephants will visit these parts more often. Forest officials have been trying to keep the animals away from the farmlands. There is a seminar that is to be organised in the districts of Odisha so that measures can be taken to keep the people and the farmlands safe and to keep the animals in the deep forests only,” explained Srikant Mahato.

The frequency of incidents has increased manifold in the recent years and most of them have become accustomed to the menace. While some have opted to flee the village, the remaining are demanding for a higher remuneration. Earlier the government would provide a remuneration of Rs 25,000 to Rs 50,000. Now, although it has increased to Rs 2.5 lakhs, the legal and prolonged paper work has made it a cumbersome process.

“The government should investigate as to how much of economical damage the elephants have caused. The animals are entering the villages, destroying crops. You can only realise the extent of the damage after you see it with your own eyes,” said Tapan Mahato.

However, the MLA has refuted all allegations about the prolonged legal process in obtaining the compensation.

“Well, about the delay in compensation, I don’t think there’s a lot of delay, people get it soon after the incident. It’s just that the authorities will need to look at the papers, the details of everything and then only they can pay the people. But see, this is an issue which is there every year. It’s not an artificially created one. The animals stray here from the forests of Jharkhand and Orissa. I have written a letter to the officials regarding this. The government is trying to make the people cautious about it,” he said.

The jumbo menace continues unabated in the state. By the looks of it, the raging man-elephant conflict will only increase if the government does not adopt the requisite measures to prevent the jumbos from invading into these village areas.