With tuskers strolling in tea estates and charging at motorists, life has become a tightrope walk for plantation workers in Kollam.
After an estate worker from Arandal was grievously injured in an elephant attack last week, a sense of unease has spread across the sector as jumbo menace has aggravated in the eastern parts of the district.
“Even last night, an elephant created ruckus on Ambanad estate. Elephants were never spotted near human habitats until about two years ago. But now, they have become a constant presence in the area. While many workers have narrowly escaped death, some survived with serious injuries. The attacks have caused permanent disabilities to some workers. In the most recent incident, a worker was gored. The frequency of attacks are on the rise. Forest officials say they do not have enough staff. Often, elephant attacks are reported from several places at the same time,” says Raju, a worker from Ambanad estate.
Since the estates are spread over hundreds of hectares with teak plantations and other intermediary crops in between, it is not easy to spot the pachyderms amidst thick greenery. “Many parents are worried about the safety of their children and we cannot transport the kids to school on two-wheelers. Elephant herds are often spotted on roads during all times of the day. Commuting is an issue as most autorickshaw drivers avoid our roads,” says Aiswarya from Ambathekkar.
Lack of fodder and water inside the forests, especially during summer, is said to be one reason for the frequent plantation raids by elephants.
“The number of wild jumbos have increased over the years and they need sustenance. While the Forest department insists that captive elephants should be fed a fixed diet that includes special treats during summer, many fodder options in the forests have become increasingly rare of late. Several plantation workers have survived elephant attacks and labour unions have already started agitations,” says CITU district secretary S. Jayamohan.
He adds that all forest fringes in the district are restive and the situation will only worsen if the issues are not addressed. “We approached the Chief Minister a couple of days ago and we have been informed that the Forest Minister along with top officials will visit the affected districts, except Alappuzha, to hold discussions to resolve the issues,” says Mr. Jayamohan.