Minister for Forests, Environment and Ecology B. Ramanath Rai on Tuesday said striking forces had been formed in areas prone to man-elephant conflict to help drive away the animals into forests.

Mr. Rai told journalists here that these forces would be stationed at forest range headquarters in the affected districts, including Hassan, Mandya, Bangalore, Mysore, Chamarajanagar and Kolar. The department would soon come out with a toll-free number for emergency response, the Minister said.

The work on the Rs. 100-crore solar fencing and elephant trench project would commence soon and it would be completed in three years. He would conduct surprise checks to personally oversee the quality of work, Mr. Rai said.

Forest encroachment

While the government would have to implement the Supreme Court direction on clearing encroachments on forestland, it would also have to be compassionate towards small and marginal farmers, the Minister said replying a question.

He said joint surveys would be undertaken along with the Revenue Department in select districts to ascertain the extent of encroachments.

Stating that no concerted effort had been made so far to clear such encroachments, Mr. Rai said the government should also keep in mind the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. Committees to identify people who had been living in forests for over 70 years were not formed at district levels and this process would be expedited, he said.

The department would also form a State-level task force to push forward afforestation in a big way. Various agencies, including the National Highways Authority of India, the Indian Railways and corporate houses would be involved in the afforestation programme, the Minister said.

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