North Bengal: Brothers forced to be in quarantine on watchtower in elephant corridor
Amar Bahadur Rai (23) didn’t expect such a hostile reception was waiting for him, when he returned to his native village on Wednesday night after one and a half years.
He and his younger brother Jiwan, who had gone to Siliguri to fetch him on Wednesday upon his return from Havelock Island in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, were denied entry to Malivita Nepali basti by panic-stricken fellow villagers, who are reeling under the threat of the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak.
The villagers packed off the brothers to live on a watchtower, measuring eight square feet, which has been converted into a makeshift quarantine centre, near their village amid the elephant corridor in north Bengal’s Jalpaiguri district.
The villagers are afraid that Amar might have contracted SARS-CoV-2, which causes Covid-19, and, in turn, Jiwan could also be infected.
Amar, who holds a diploma in hotel management, returned home after he lost his job at a luxury resort in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, as the viral outbreak has battered the economy, especially the hospitality sector among others.
The village, which is located in the Belacoba forest range under the Rajganj police station in Jalpaiguri district, is situated around 400 metres away from the tower that doesn’t have an electricity connection.
Forest department officials said it would get tough for the youth to live on the watchtower while the onset of monsoon in north Bengal was declared on Friday amid a forecast for heavy rains over the weekend.
“The youth will undergo Covid-19 tests. If they test negative, they’ll be allowed entry to the village after 14 days,” said Hari Bahadur Bhujel, Amar’s uncle.
Forest department officials unsuccessfully tried to prevail over the adamant villagers and convince them that keeping the youth on the watchtower is both risky and illegal.
Dipak Roy Pradhan, the beat officer of Sikharpur range, said, “We tried to persuade the villagers to see reason, but they were adamant. On Thursday night, a herd of 17 elephants destroyed 200 mounds of paddy on the eastern side of the village. Fortunately, the tower is located on the northern side.”
Sanjay Dutta, the ranger of Belacoba forest, said, “People have lost humanity. The watchtower is 25 feet high and the top platform measures around eight square feet. It’s dangerous to live there.”
Amar said, “The management of the resort didn’t renew my contract. I came home after one and a half years. I never imagined that I’d be forced to stay on a watchtower in my own village.”
He, however, wants to make the most out of a grave situation.
“We’re hurt but we plan to use this opportunity to help the villagers. If we see wild elephants approaching the village, we’ll drive them away by using the battery-operated searchlights our family has given us.”
There have been several unusual makeshift quarantine centres across the country to accommodate migrant returnees, but watchtower appears to be the first instance.
Earlier, seven men in West Bengal’s Purulia district spent days on a treetop after they returned from Chennai on March 24, a day before nationwide lockdown restrictions were imposed.
They stayed on a machan, a makeshift wood and bamboo platform set up by villagers, in a bid to save themselves from wild elephants.
At Habibpur in Malda district, Niranjan Haldar (65) lived in a small country boat in April.