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Leopard grabs corporate funds
- Tea firms spend fortune to fight menace

Jorhat, March 2: Corporate social responsibility, which coaxes social benevolence out of business processes, has found new beneficiary in Assam — the leopard.

Tea companies are being forced to spend copious amounts of money to capture straying leopards, build cages to keep them and then tap resources to release them in the jungles.

For most of these firms, corporate social responsibility is no longer confined to building roads and schools or providing drinking water facilities but has forked out to the more challenging job of averting wildlife disasters.

“We are spending such huge amounts in fighting leopards in tea gardens that we have to post the costs under the corporate social responsibility head,” Samarjyoti Chaliha, manager of Dikom tea estate, the worst hit in Upper Assam, told The Telegraph today.

At least 19 leopards, including one last Wednesday, were captured in Dikom estate, in Dibrugarh district, in the last few years.

“It is not only the cost of capturing and caging the animals, we have to spend hefty amounts on their transportation to the nearest forest,” Chaliha said.

While the cost of constructing a cage is about Rs 15,000, garden authorities have to pay Rs 4,000 to transporters to shift a single animal to Jeypore reserve forest, about 40km away.

Dikom has had to build three cages in the past few years, which are installed in various parts of the tea garden.

Chaliha said apart from the cost of building cages and transportation, there is also the additional cost of hiring extra labourers, who, armed with drums and crackers, to form a protective ring around the labourers in the areas frequented by animals.

With the forest department not having adequate funds to provide cages to every tea garden to capture leopards, almost all the estates have constructed cages on their own.

“We have to erect cages in non-tea garden areas as well where leopards are sighted frequently. We have provided technical expertise to them,” a forest official said.

It is not only Dikom tea estate — several estates in Upper Assam districts have had to spend huge amounts of funds to fight leopard menace.

Some of the badly hit gardens in Dibrugarh are Nadua, Romai, Ghagrajan, Nahortoli, Maijan, Greenwood and Chabua.

Similar is the situation in tea gardens in Sivasagar, Tinsukia, Golaghat and Jorhat districts.

The Indian Institute of Plantation Management, in fact, has launched various programmes in tea estates to train labourers to fight the menace.