Uttarakhand tuskers continue to clash with farmers

Dehradun : Man-animal conflict in the forests in and around the Doon Valley is going from bad to worse. A one-tusk elephant trampled to death 40-year-old Promila Devi, who had gone to the Motichur area of Rajaji National Park to collect fuel wood. Two other women who were accompanying the deceased, managed to escape, as yet another tusker who was in the immediate vicinity, gave them the time to slip away.

Bereft of the corridors that enabled the pachyderms to move from one forest compartment to another, from the Corbett National Park to the banks of the Yamuna in Paonta Sahib, Himachal Pradesh, the elephants have been trapped in forest pockets, which are not able to sustain the herds round the year. This forces the elephants to move to the fields in the adjoining villages in search of food and come in direct conflict with man.

The villagers in turn retaliate to save their crops and go to the extent of throwing boiling water on the elephants to save their crops. This has only instigated the pachyderms, who have now started retaliating and attacking human beings on coming face to face. This is said to be the reason that the tuskers are now attacking even the women folk who go to the forests to collect fodder for their cattle and fuel wood for the kitchen.

Elephant grazing

Though the director, Rajaji National Park, S Subbudhi claimed that there was a complete ban on collecting fuel wood or fodder from within the Park, but over the years it has been common practice of villagers in the peripheries to meet their fuel wood and fodder requirements from the forests. In fact right from the days of the Raj, villagers were allowed to take a head load of fuel wood and fodder from the forest for their personal needs.

Subbudhi said that to deter the villagers from the practice of entering the forests for fuel wood and fodder, women who had come to the Park area had been challaned on a number of occasions. However, he could not mention of an alternative where the villagers could go to meet the fuel wood requirements, as only a handful have access to LPG and kerosene costs are high.

According to a recent report of the Forest Survey of India, the dependence on forests for fuel wood is 83.38 per cent and for fodder 95.28 per cent in Uttarakhand. This is slightly lower as compared to Himachal Pradesh where the dependence for fuel wood is 95.80 per cent and for fodder 99.07 per cent. Under such circumstances, unless proper alternatives are made for the rural population, one cannot simply ban their entry into the adjoining forests.

More importantly, despite the matter of the rogue tusker and increasing number of deaths being caused by elephants, the state government or the centre for that matter have not woken up to the immediate need of creating corridors through which the elephant herds can once move on their traditional migration routes from one forest division to another, as in the past.

A journalist with over 40 years of experience, Jagdish Bhatt was Editor, Hill Post (Uttarakhand). Jagdish had worked with India's leading English dailies, which include Times of India, Indian Express, Pioneer and several other reputed publications. A highly acclaimed journalist, he was a recipient of many awards Jagdish Bhatt, aged 72, breathed his last on 28th August 2021 at his Dehradun residence.

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