Wild elephants help Swachh Bharat cause in Bengal, force villagers to build toilets at home (India)


Koushik Dutta, Hindustan Times

Date Published

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Elephants have achieved what the combined might of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and chief minister Mamata Banerjee could not. 

Frequent advertisements and intensive campaigns on Swachh Bharat and its Bengal equivalent, Nirmal Bangla, could not convince many to relieve themselves behind closed doors but fear of elephant attacks has driven them away from the fields and open, especially in the districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Jhargram, forest officers told HT.

People scampering indoors have, in turn, helped reduce the number of casualties in elephant attacks in south Bengal.

The number of people killed in elephant attacks in south Bengal have come down from 32 in 2016 to a mere six this year so far.

“Many people died in elephant attacks when they went to forests early in the morning or after sunset to respond to the call of nature. The frequent deaths prompted many to build toilets in their homes,” said Rabindranath Saha, district forest officer of Midnapore division.

The forest department, too, built a few community toilets. “In our area, we constructed more than 10 community toilets at strategic points. We are also building toilets in some houses. We have a number of such proposals at hand,” Saha added.

Every year, herds of elephants from Dolma range of hills in Jharkhand come to Bengal and roam around in these districts destroying life, crop and property.

Bengal has not implemented Swachh Bharat and has its own Nirmal Bangla (clean Brngal) equivalent. But both campaigns are carried out in the state.

Pushed by chief minister Mamata Banerjee to contain the number of casualties in elephants attacks, the forest department took some more measures such as alerting people about the movement of elephants and asking villagers not to store toddy in their homes as the smell attracts wild animals such as elephant and bear.

The forest department is also trying to ensure the animals get sufficient food and water in the forest so that they don’t need to venture into areas having human habitation.

The department is creating water holes in the Mayurjharna Elephant Reserve. It will plant trees that wild elephants prefer. The department wants to complete the project in three years, which, it hopes will help elephants remain confined to forest areas.

Right now, about 100 elephants are moving in Chandra, Bhadutala, Pirakata and Lalgarh areas in West Midnapore district. “Local people have also been dissuaded from storing ‘haria’ (toddy) in their houses. The elephant menace has in fact reduced consumption of this popular country liquor in many areas,” added Saha.

“We want to reduce the zone of influence of the elephants. Surveillance systems have been employed. Movement of the elephants are monitored and people are informed about it so that they can take precautionary measures. All these have contributed to the reduction in casualties,” Shakti Shankar Dey, chief conservator of forest (Western Range) told HT.

“People in these areas are getting bulk SMS alerts on routes and corridors used by the herds. Entire villages are being alerted,” Dey added.

“States facing similar problems are now inquiring about the strategy that brought down man-animal conflict in Bengal,” claimed the CCF.

The forest department has also installed solar lights in vulnerable areas so that people can spot the elephants from a distance and save themselves.