Tuskers kill about 10 people in Uttarakhand every year during their raids into human settlements for food, but the state government has no effective plan to stop their invasions, according to forest department sources.
Even the plan to fence the invasion-prone areas is gathering dust. As a result, over 100 villages in Rishikesh-Haridwar-Rajaji belt continue to reel under the pachyderm menace. The situation is the same in the villages around the Terai belt, the officials admit.
Notably the threat to the human settlements remains alive even though the population of elephants has come down as per the latest state forest department figures.
Forest officials say the department is paying about `2.30 crore as compensation to the affected people across state. The figures have tripled in eight years. This is a double blow to the state-losing human lives and property and paying for it, the officials say.
According to figures of forest department, during 2010-11, the elephants count in the state was 1100 -2000, which is much less than 2008 census figures which put the tusker population at 1400-2500.
Ramesh Hanu, a shopkeeper resident of Chhidarwala in Raiwala, near Rajaji National Park said, “When elephants do not get enough food in the forest, they come towards villages. Not only standing crops like paddy and sugarcane, but stored cereals in houses too attract them. Country made liquor prepared from sugarcane in various villagers too attracts the animal. The forest department should do something about the availability of food for elephants inside forest.”
Janki Devi, mother of 36- year-old Kishan, who was killed during elephant attack in February 2009 in Missarpur village of Haridwar forest division, told Hindustan Times on the phone, “Nothing has changed till today. I lost my son in 2009 and since then many mothers have lost their children too. The forest department could do nothing but to provide compensation. Can they bring back my son?”
The wildlife activists and NGOs have regularly raised the issue during the state wildlife board meetings and demanded immediate ‘fencing’ of the
vulnerable areas, but to no avail.
HK Singh, division forest officer of Haridwar said, “Elephants have become smarter. They can easily break the fence with the help of trees. Construction of walls can minimise conflict, but cannot do away with it.”
Dig Vijay Singh Khati, chief wildlife warden Uttarakhand blames it on the changing trend of farming in the state.
“The shrub forests are converted to paddy and sugarcane fields. Obviously, elephants would come in search of food. We are giving away nearly ‘2.30cr ex gratia to affected people which three times higher than what we used to pay about 8 years ago,” he said.
Forest minister Dinesh Aggarwal, however, said that boundary walls were being constructed at Haridwar, Lansdowne and Haldwani forest divisions to keep elephants away.