Elephants have added a new chapter to the saga of human displacement in Assam since the 1960s.
Last week, the state government set up 37 relief camps for around 35,000 victims of ethnic clashes on the Assam-Meghalaya border.
It has now set up three relief camps in Nagaon district for people displaced by a herd of 200 elephants. Man-elephant conflicts on an average claimed 166 people and 52 jumbos every year from 2007-2009. But the tussle never led to displacement so far.
On Monday, district authorities set up a relief camp in Hojai subdivision after a herd descending from the Lamsakhang reserve forest in adjoining Karbi Anglong district killed three and destroyed over 200 houses. By Wednesday, the number of jumbo-displaced people increased to 950, necessitating two more relief camps.
"Relief camps for people displaced by elephants are unheard of," Nagaon deputy commissioner M Angamuthu said. "This problem has claimed nine lives and left 120 injured in the past 45 days. We understand habitat shrinkage and food scarcity has made the elephants change routes, but loss of human lives is a serious issue," he said.
The affected have blamed the menace on a new cement factory that has come up on an elephant corridor. Greens agree. "Elephants are straying into areas unfamiliar to them as well as humans, and this is complicating the matter. The expansion of the man-elephant conflict zones can be checked only if the jumbos are given back their habitats," said Bibhav Talukdar of green group Aaranyak.