The Karnataka Elephant Task Force consisting of experts set up by the High Court was asked to study and submit a report on the problem of human-elephant conflict in Karnataka, with special reference to the Hassan and Kodagu areas. The report was submitted in September 2012.

The report was later referred to the National Board of Wildlife, Delhi, for its views and also the State Government to come out with its opinion.

Some feel that many recommendations are not new, but suggested over a decade ago by local people, such as better protection for forest habitat, removal of monoculture teak plantations inside State-protected forests, restricting mining and quarrying in government forest areas and providing quicker ex-gratia payments to humans suffering in the conflict situations. However, wildlife biologist Cheryl D. Nath says that what is new is that the task force has attempted to institutionalise a considerable contribution towards elephant conservation from local people.

She, referring to the report, says that there should be greater efforts to fairly address the concerns of all affected local communities in the vulnerable areas of Kodagu and Hassan districts.

While capturing a big herd of elephants in Hassan, a similar number could also be caught and placed in captivity from the north-eastern area of Kodagu, which has faced a similarly high level of conflict since over a decade. The task force has favoured keeping the captured animals in captivity rather than relocating them.

‘Impractical’

She terms the recommendation of putting up a barrier between Hassan and Kodagu to prevent movement of elephants as impractical. Physical barriers are usually are erected between protected forests and revenue land, to prevent elephants from entering the latter, not in the midst of privately held revenue land.

She told The Hindu that local people should be given as important a role as the experts when deciding on the conflict management regime best suited for their areas.

“Physical barriers may not work”, says Nanda Subbaiah of the Small Growers Association, Siddapur, and a former Chairman of the Codagu Planters Association. Even the solar fencing and elephant-proof trench experiments have not succeeded fully in containing the elephant menace, he says.

Birth control

Though the task force mentioned the need for a detailed prior public consultation in every village on the issue and the acknowledgment of people’s rights and preferences through a participatory and transparent process, the task force itself had not resorted to a meaningful public consultation while eliciting opinions of the people, Ms. Nath observed. Instead, serious focus should have been on the suggestions given by the people such as an elephant birth control programme, given that the elephant population is on the rise since several years.

She feels that it would also be wise to avoid dragging the ‘Baane’ lands in Kodagu into the issue, as in the report, as the inclusion of such land in the deemed forest list suggested by Forest Department earlier was ‘strongly and consistently’ opposed by the Kodagu people. The task force also recommended that the ‘Baane’ lands, which had earlier been suggested for inclusion in the “deemed forest” list by the Reconstituted Expert Committee of the Forest Department, should be notified as legal forest category such as village forests or protected forests or community forest resources under the Forest Rights Act.

This would create a controversy, says Mr. Subbaiah. Any attempt to coercively convert these ancestrally held private property, which played a central role in the cultural heritage of local Kodava clans, into government or community forests in the name of biodiversity conservation could lead to a huge public outcry against it, Ms. Nath said, a view endorsed by Mr. Subbaiah.

K. Jeevan Chinnappa

Are the recommendations of the elephant task force a panacea for human-elephant conflict?

A look at the role of the elephant task force and the suggestions given by people living in the affected areas