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Sanctuary plan to stall marauding elephants

Mayurjharna (West Midnapore), Oct. 14: The state forest department is drawing up plans to revive its elephant sanctuary project, said the department’s minister of state Maheswar Murmu.

“We have sent the draft proposal to the Central animal resource development board for its consent and shall begin work as soon as it comes,” said Murmu.

The forest department got going with the idea in 1995 after 43 people were killed by rogue elephants in the Jhargram subdivision in 1993-’94. A plan was drafted in 1995 but had to be aborted due to escalating Naxalite insurgency.

The People’s War spread its tentacles between 1995 and 2000 in Joram and Mayurjharna under Belpahari police station. The outfit’s weapons training centre was in Mayurjharna.

Jharkhand Party (Naren) leader Anil Mahato was killed by the rebel outfit in Joram early 2001.

But the Naxalite activism is subdued since early this year following stepped-up police surveillance, development work, increased presence of political parties and redistribution of land by the government.

Many Naxalite activists returned to the mainstream by May end. A group of Naxalites surrendered in September while 50 others declared their intent.

The loosening of the Naxalite stranglehold on the region and renewed elephant attacks between January and March that claimed seven lives made the department redraw its sanctuary plans.

Elephants created havoc in Jhargram for three days from February 16. Subhaspally and Madhuban suffered heavy damage and a herd penetrated into Bishnupur town in Bankura.

Forest department officials said: “The elephants are showing an increasing tendency to enter towns during the winter. The empty paddy fields and water bodies in the villages force the elephants to divert.”

“They come down to the plains from the Dalma Hills on the border of Jharkhand and West Midnapore due to deforestation. They stay here from September to March and travel a few hundred kilometres across the Midnapore districts. Some of them stray into Bankura. The elephants damage paddy fields ready for harvest and often kill people on their way,” said Murmu.

A senior officer of the forest department in Jhargram said: “The elephants come down from the Dalma through the ‘elephant corridor’ in Joram village under the Belpahari police station. The proposed sanctuary would cover Joram and Mayurjharna.”

Water bodies are being restored to preserve sweet drinking water for the elephants. Bamboo grass, banana plants and thick bushes are being grown. Saline stones, which the elephants like, are also being placed.

“We want to confine the elephants in this area for a few months, at least till the harvesting season. They will return to Jharkhand on their own during monsoon. We can also warn the peasants in advance so that they can have some time to get prepared,” the officer said.

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