Village residents question government ‘apathy’ in addressing the issue

Residents of the elephant-affected villages in Hassan district wonder why the government takes the issue of man-animal conflict seriously only when people in and around major cities are affected.

Residents of 38 villages in Sakleshpur, Alur and Arkalgud taluks have been dealing with the problem for decades now. Elephants enter human habitats in Yeslur and Sakaleshpur ranges almost every day.

R.N. Lakshman, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Hassan, says he and his officers receive several frantic calls every day from people who sight elephants.

Life has been affected in these villages in view of the regular encounters with elephants. Parents start worrying if their children are a little late while returning from school. People in these villages ensure they return home by dusk. Farmers hesitate to invest on their land fearing elephant raids.

‘Least respect’

Kenchappa of Alur said, “Successive governments have showed that they have least respect for the lives of people in the villages of these taluks.”

“The compensation for those who die in elephant attacks was increased from Rs. 2 lakh to Rs. 5 lakh only after a man was killed in an elephant attack in Mysore in 2011. The State Cabinet discussed the issue only when elephants came close to the State capital and killed people,” he said.

In the last 10 years, according to Mr. Lakshman, 34 people have lost their lives in the district in elephant attacks. On the other hand, 17 elephants have been electrocuted in the same period.

The reasons for increasing man-elephant conflicts are decrease in the forest area, shortage of food for the animal, breaks in the elephant corridor, fragmentation of forests, increase in the elephant population and construction of the Hemavati reservoir, which submerged vast forest area, according to authorities of the Department of Forests.

2010 experiment

M.K. Appayya, retired Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, did a study on the problems caused by elephants, in 2007. He submitted a report recommending relocation of elephants. On an experimental basis, the Department of Forests shifted two elephants to Bandipur National Park in 2010. Interestingly, the elephants returned within 30 days. The officers tracked their movements through radio collars.

In the last couple of years, the number of elephants in Kattepura and Dodbetta reserve forest areas has gone up to at least 35. “Our officers have noticed six elephant calves in the last one year. The total number of elephants is more than 35,” Mr. Lakshman said.

The previous BJP government had sought the permission of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to relocate the wild elephants. The permission was granted and even as modalities were being worked out, the Karnataka High Court set up a task force under the chairmanship of R. Sukumar of the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science. The task force held public consultations, during which farmers sought relocation of elephants.

The task force has submitted its report to the High Court. However, the government is yet to submit its response to the report. The State Cabinet, which met on June 27, resolved to implement many recommendations of the report.

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