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Wednesday, Oct 23, 2019

Lok Sabha Elections 2019: Tigers, a roaring poll factor in Pilibhit

The fear of the tiger haunts over 300 villages at the edge of Pilibhit Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Pilibhit district of western Uttar Pradesh. Tigers have killed close to 25 people of these villages since 2017.

lok-sabha-elections Updated: Apr 23, 2019 12:22 IST
Chandan Kumar
Chandan Kumar
Hindustan Times, Pilibhit
People of Maitha Saidullaganj village, located at the edge of PTR, are forced to stay indoors after sunset fearing tiger attack.
People of Maitha Saidullaganj village, located at the edge of PTR, are forced to stay indoors after sunset fearing tiger attack.(HT Photo)
         

Somprakash ,32, sits on the edge of a field at Maitha Saidullaganj village in Pilibhit, his gaze fixed on the forest nearby where the tiger is king.

Even now, he cannot forget the day in July 2017 when a big cat killed his 50-year old mother Nankhi Devi. The spot was merely a stone’s throw from where he now sits, knitting rope from dry wheat straw.

Factfile
  • Total Votes: 1758506
  • Female Voters: 811969
  • Male Voters: 946462
  • Third gender: 75

Indeed, the fear of the tiger haunts over 300 villages at the edge of Pilibhit Tiger Reserve (PTR) in Pilibhit district of western Uttar Pradesh. Tigers have killed close to 25 people of these villages since 2017.

“Nobody ventures out of the village after sunset. The tiger will not caution you before attacking. The problem has increased over the years but it has not been an issue for any of our leaders,” says Santosh Kumar, the village head.

So when Pilibhit goes to poll on Tuesday, its villagers will hope that their next representative will tackle the issue.

Located on the India-Nepal border in the Terai, Pilibhit has a considerable area under reserved forest. The then Samajwadi Party government declared the forest a tiger reserve in 2014.

Cast wise distribution (Approx)
  • Muslim: 4.5 lakh
  • SC :3.5 lakh
  • OBC:5.5 Lakh
  • Upper Caste:4 lakh
  • Other :8000

Varun Gandhi is the BJP candidate from Pilibhit, the seat that his mother union minister Maneka Gandhi won in 1989, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2004 and 2014. She won the seat twice each as Janata Dal, independent and a BJP candidate. Varun bagged the seat in 2009 and he is back in Pilibhit this time while his mother is contesting from Sultanpur. In 2014, Varun won the Sultanpur seat.

The SP-BSP alliance has fielded former MLA Hemraj Verma against him this time.

Verma, a former Samajwadi Party MLA, visited villages close to the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve and expressed solidarity with the affected families. He even observed a four-day fast, demanding compensation for the families. Some of the families in the village remember this.

“Hemraj is a farmer like us. He understands our needs and has stood by us. I hope he will do something for us if elected,” says Harpal Kumar, 23, a farm labourer.

Dharmedra Verma of Mewatpur, another village located close to PTR, says, “The attacks started in the winter of 2016 and continue till date. Yet, nobody has thought of doing something to prevent them. Our leaders don’t even talk about the issue. They only express condolences when someone dies in an attack.”

The attacks were most rampant in 2017 when at least 15 people were killed, forcing Yogi Adityanth to visit the district and hold meetings with forest and administrative officials over the issue. Maneka Gandhi also attended the meetings. The discussions did not lead to results on the ground and the attacks continued.

Hemraj Verma has assured farmers that a fence will be built to separate the villages nearby from the forest. Local BJP leaders have also made similar promises.

Besides the man-animal conflict, development will also be an issue for voters. People have long been demanding a good government college in the area as students have to go to Bareilly to study beyond class 12.

“I had to leave college in the third year of graduation to support my family, primarily because it is too costly to travel to Bareilly to attend college and I cannot afford to study in private college,” says Shafiq Alam, a resident.

Although the new overbridge in Pilibhit city has made travel easier, locals long for a better sewer system. They also want the next MP to ensure better connectivity with nearby districts but above all they want him to tame the tigers in the wild.

First Published: Apr 23, 2019 12:22 IST

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