Elected representatives, locals and some officers have said that the constitution of the elephant task force, recently announced by the government, offers nothing new to tackle the acute man-elephant conflict in parts of southern Karnataka. The tasks assigned to the newly-constituted force were earlier handled by officers in the respective divisions. Now, the new officers will continue with the same, they have argued.
Following two deaths, one each in Sakleshpur and Mudigere, the State Government announced task forces in Chikkamagaluru, Hassan, Kodagu and Mysuru districts. Each is headed by an officer of the cadre Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF). Each force will have an ACF, an RFO, four DRFOs, 8 forest guards and 32 outsourced employees
The primary objective of the task force, as per the Government Order, is to do patrolling in affected areas, keep track of the movement of herds in human habitats and coffee estates, and drive them to forest areas.
‘Will serve no purpose’
Sakleshpur MLA H.K. Kumaraswamy told The Hindu that the existing officers had been conducting such operations to tackle the conflict. “Even if you want to drive elephants away from human habitat, where will you drive them off to? The elephants will keep moving from one estate to another. This is not going to help in any way,” he opined. The JD(S) MLA also took exception to the delay in taking a decision on increasing forest cover by taking land by growers, who volunteered to give up their land.
Coffee planters and locals, affected by the man-elephant conflict, have been demanding the capture and relocation of all elephants. “There is no plan of action before the government. The announcement is only a political assurance ahead of elections,” said H.P. Mohan, a planter and former chairman of Malnad Area Development Board.
Besides the public, even a section of senior officers in the Forest Department has strong reservations about the task force. The department has not found a solution to the problem but constituted a committee to blame whenever things go out of control. “Driving elephants away is one of the tasks assigned to the task forces. Where should one drive them back? There is no forest land to drive them to. There have been no efforts to increase the forest cover or strengthen the elephant corridor. We are finding solutions to symptoms, not the disease,” said an officer.
The heads of task forces appointed are all in the age group of 50-60 years. A couple of them are on the verge of retirement.
“The government is expecting them to lead a team of staff to drive the elephants away. Is it possible?” asked an officer. Whenever a critical situation arises, the officers have to coordinate with DC and SP, who are all Indian service officers.
“The task forces are headed by senior SFS officers. It would be difficult for them to coordinate with IAS and IPS officers,” opined another officer, who wished not to be named. He also wondered why no Indian Forest Officer had been posted to head the task force.