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No hands to dig village trench

Borjora (Bankura), Jan. 9: Two panchayats in an elephant attack-prone Bankura pocket could not get workers under the 100-day rural job scheme to build a trench as the men are involved in the more lucrative work of mining illegal coal and the women are busy stocking paddy.

The forest department has been forced to hire earth-moving machines at Rs 700 an hour with its own funds to dig the 19km trench along the forests to stop elephants from entering the dozen villages in the two panchayat areas, attacking people and damaging crops.

Had the Borjora and Ghutgeria panchayats managed to employ local people under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), the work could have been done with funds under the central scheme.

Some of the men folk in the villages said they earned Rs 400 a day working in illegal mines in nearby Mejia, much more than the Rs 151 a day under the rural job scheme.

An illegal miner, who did not wish to be identified, said: “I earn almost thrice as much working in illegal mines. I know my job is risky but we need the money. The wage offered under the job scheme is not high.”

Told that the trench was being built for safety of the residents, he said: “It is not that the work is stuck because we have refused to do it.”

The women in the area have refused to take up the assignment as they are stocking paddy in the barns for Rs 150 a day. “The money we earn matches the wages offered under the job scheme. On top of that, we get breakfast and lunch. Our work is much less laborious than making the trench, which involves digging earth and carrying it,” a woman said.

Mohan Sit, the Borjora forest range officer, said the department started work using earth movers.

“We had set a target of constructing 5km of the trench by the end of January. But because of non-availability of labourers, the work was getting delayed. So we hired earth-moving machines at Rs 700 an hour,” he said. Sit added that the 19km-long trench would be built in four phases.

The trench will be 10ft wide and 6ft deep. The forest department had sought 1,200 labourers from Borjora and Ghutgeria panchayats to dig it. The panchayats had decided to get the job done under the 100-day job scheme, a focus area of the state, as it would have provided employment to local people and saved the forest department money.

Wild elephants frequently enter Borjora and Mejia from dense forests around the two blocks.

On August 31 last year, 40-year-old farmer Manik Bauri was killed by an elephant in Mejia. On December 25, a tusker had damaged shops in another village in Mejia and eaten 65 cakes.

Elephant raid

At least 25 huts in the labour lines of Hilla Tea Estate in Nagrakata, Jalpaiguri, were damaged by two tuskers around 6am on Thursday.

In another incident in Malbazar, Jalpaiguri, a tea garden worker was mauled by a leopard at Uttar Khalpara on Thursday.