‘Humans are winning’: Nagaland forest minister sparks row over human-elephant conflict - Hindustan Times
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‘Humans are winning’: Nagaland forest minister sparks row over human-elephant conflict

ByAlice Yhoshü
Sep 14, 2023 09:56 AM IST

In Nagaland, Wokha reportedly has the highest population of wild elephants, and more than half of those are in Bhandari area, particularly in Merapani range along the Assam border

Nagaland minister for environment, forest and climate change CL John sparked a controversy on Tuesday with his comment on human-animal conflict in the state assembly when he said “humans are winning” while talking about deaths related to elephants in Wokha district, drawing condemnation from environmentalists and citizens on social media.

A wild adult male elephant in a tea estate in northeast India. (HT File Photo)
A wild adult male elephant in a tea estate in northeast India. (HT File Photo)

“The report I’m getting is that humans are winning, so there’s nothing to worry,” the minister said.

The minister, responding to Naga People’s Front MLA Achumbemo Kikon who raised concerns on human-animal conflict particularly regarding wild elephants in his constituency, made the remark citing that only eight persons were killed against 12 wild elephant deaths in Wokha.

“It is very unfortunate and very unbecoming of a forest minister from a global biodiversity hotspot to be so insensitive, disregarding lives, and not comprehending the challenge and the issue at hand that human-animal conflict exists,” Bano Haralu, an environmentalist, said.

“The minister’s tongue-in-cheek response to the query on the frequent incidents of human-elephant conflict in Wokha district was not only insensitive to the victims’ families, but also reveals the conviction Naga leaders lack on the need to protect our natural resources through sustainable livelihood and development modules and secure a future for Nagas,” Haralu added.

Mmhonlumo Kikon, a former MLA from the district who is a keen environmentalist himself said, “The statement on eight lives lost being a win for the humans is unfortunate.”

He said the human-animal conflict, particularly involving wild elephants in Wokha’s Bhandari area, has been going on for a long time ever since the elephant corridor in the locality was intruded upon by various road projects. He said that various agencies from the Centre have come forward extending support.

“The basic premise is to find a solution to address the conflict and coexist amid this challenge. The ratio (of deaths) need not be the basis of this issue,” he told HT.

In Nagaland, Wokha reportedly has the highest population of wild elephants, and more than half of those are in Bhandari area, particularly in Merapani range along the Assam border.

On the shortage of forest personnel in the area, John said many staff members are retiring but due to student activists demanding all appointments be made through the state staff selection board, the recruitment process is getting prolonged.

“When the candidates clear their interviews, we shall send the strongest of them to that area. I give my assurance,” he said.

The minister also remarked that his department was preparing to issue a special licence for “elephant trapping and capturing”, and training in this regard will be given only to Bhandari MLA Achumbemo Kikon.

The latter took the banter well and commented that the minister appeared to be in his own Tehok constituency in Mon district while the discussion was about Bhandari division. He, however, pointed out that the state should come up with a policy on the human-animal conflict, assessing the gravity of the situation “in all seriousness”.

Video clippings of the minister’s remarks in the assembly were posted on various online platforms and users condemned the insensitivity of the comments.

“Only 8 died so don’t worry, is what he said. Lives don’t matter to the minister,” a Facebook user commented, while another remarked, “8 precious lives lost from Wokha district by wild elephants is nothing to our honourable forest minister CL John.”

“The audacity to say only eight people were killed, followed by laughter behind, is a shame indeed,” another user said.

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