Violent protests rock Pulpally in Kerala’s Wayanad after third elephant attack death in a month

Prohibitory orders issued for two days; this was the third death caused by a wild animal attack in less than a month; Wayanad MP Rahul Gandhi interrupts yatra to visit three victim families on Sunday

Updated - February 18, 2024 12:23 am IST

Published - February 17, 2024 11:37 pm IST - KALPETTA

People block a forest officials’ vehicle during district-wide hartal at Pulpally, in Wayanad district, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024.

People block a forest officials’ vehicle during district-wide hartal at Pulpally, in Wayanad district, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

A dawn-to-dusk hartal called by all major political parties in Kerala’s Wayanad district on Saturday, to demand a lasting solution to the escalating threat from wild animals, took a violent turn in Pulpally, 30 km from the district headquarters of Kalpetta. The strike was called by the Congress-led United Democratic Front, the Left Democratic Front, and the Bharatiya Janata Party after a man was killed by a herd of wild elephants on Friday, the third such death in less than a month.

Protestors blocked roads, vandalised a vehicle belonging to the Forest department, attacked police, and also vented their ire against local Congress legislators I.C. Balakrishnan and T. Siddique. Police had to use force to disperse the protestors, who staged a demonstration with the body of Paul of Vellachalil, an employee of the Kuruva Dweep eco-tourism centre of the Forest department, who was killed on Friday. Prohibitory orders have been issued in Pulpally panchayat for two days.

Third death in a month

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has ordered a high-level ministerial meeting in Wayanad on February 20 to finalise measures to mitigate human-wildlife conflict in the district. Three people have been killed in wildlife attacks in the district since January 30.

Paul, an employee of the Kuruva Tourism Project, was attacked by a herd of elephants on Friday. His family members said that he could have been saved had he received timely medical attention, another issue confronting the hilly district. He succumbed to his injuries at the Kozhikode Medical College Hospital, after travelling 100 km on the busy ghat road.

Last week, a farmer, Ajeesh, had been killed by a radio-collared elephant which strayed into a village near Mananthavady.

The situation has prompted Congress leader and Wayanad MP, Rahul Gandhi, to cut short his Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra in Uttar Pradesh to visit the kin of the three persons recently killed by wild animals in the district. Mr. Gandhi is scheduled to call on the families on Sunday.

Demand ₹50 lakh solatium

The protesters wanted an assurance from the government that a solatium of ₹50 lakh would be given to Paul’s kin. They demanded the capture of the elephant that attacked him, and sought steps to cage a tiger that has triggered panic among Pulpally’s residents. They also wanted the Chief Minister and Forest Minister to visit the area.

The mob refused to allow Paul’s body to be shifted for funeral rites until the government gave an assurance to their demands. Later, Wayanad District Magistrate A. Devaki and District panchayat members met the victim’s family and promised an immediate solatium of ₹10 lakh, along with a recommendation to the government to provide the remaining amount. They also promised to provide a job for the wife of the deceased and offered to bear the educational expenses of his daughter.

Paul’s body was later shifted to his house at Pakkom and buried at the St. George Jacobite Cathedral at Pulpally around 6:30 p.m.

Sustainable solution needed

Forest Minister A.K. Saseendran told reporters in Kozhikode that the government empathised with the public cause propounded by the protestors. However, he said that wanton violence against wildlife enforcers, police, and elected peoples’ representatives would preclude stakeholders from arriving at a sustainable solution to mitigate human-wildlife conflict.

Leader of the Opposition V.D. Satheesan briefed the Chief Minister about the tense situation at Pulpally in a phone call, and urged the government to take all possible steps to address the concerns of the public and ensure protection from wildlife attacks.

Meanwhile, the combing operation to capture Belur Makhana, the elephant which killed a farmer in the district a week ago in the Manivayal forest zone under the North Wayanad forest division was unsuccessful for the seventh day on Saturday.

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