A battery-operated fence erected by Nepal along the border to keep elephants from India away is set to snowball into a controversy with the West Bengal government writing to the Centre to raise the issue with the neighbouring country.
Nepal erected the 18-km-long energised fence near the bank of Mechi river that divides the two countries with aid from international funding agencies six months ago.
West Bengal forest minister Binay Krishna Barman, who held a high-level meeting with state forest officials in Sukna in Darjeeling on Saturday, raised objection over the fence along the international border by Nepal.
Barman said the fencing blocks the natural movement of the elephants.
“The state government has already written a letter to the Centre to take up the matter with the Nepal government,” Barman said.
Every year hundreds of elephants migrate from the forests of Assam and West Bengal into Nepal through the Indo-Nepal border and destroy crops in the villages on both sides.
The animals follow a traditional corridor to reach places like Bahundangi in eastern Nepal under Jhapa district after crossing forests of Sukna and Panighata in Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
Animesh Bose, programme coordinator of Siliguri-based Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation (HNAF), said man-elephant conflict is a serious issue along this border.
“The elephants’ corridor along the Indo-Nepal border has existed for thousands of years. If the movement of the elephants is blocked, it will create a disastrous effect in places like Kolabari and other basties under Kolabari beat of Panighata range,” Bose told HT.
He added that in the past 15 years, at least 20 elephants have died inside Nepal and more than 50 people have been killed on both the sides of the international border by elephants.
The animals reach the Indo-Nepal border twice a year during the rainy season and winter when maize and rice are cultivated respectively and often plunder crops during the night in Nepal and return to Kolabari forest on the India side in the morning.
In the past, Nepalese villagers and authorities have resorted to firing and poisoning of elephants killing a number of the pachyderms.
The elephant menace has often affected the cordial relation between the residents on both sides of the border. After joint efforts by India and Nepal to mitigate the problem fell flat, the Nepalese government decided to erect the fence.
Indian authorities believe that the energised fence will make the elephants hostile and eventually the animals will turn their ire against villagers on the Indian side leading to more destruction of crops and human lives.
Nepal, however, has said the fence would not bother the animals as well as Indians along the border.
“Necessary international guidelines have been followed while erecting the fence with the help of international donor agencies,” a senior Nepalese forest official requesting anonymity said.
Arjun Karki, the president of Nepal’s Nature Conservation Society, also said that the fence should not be a problem for India as it has been erected on Nepalese’s side where there are no forest tracts.