A herd of elephants in the Kalabari forest on the outskirts of Siliguri on Friday. Picture by Kundan Yolmo
Siliguri. June 13: A herd of more than 100 elephants has been damaging huts and destroying paddy and corn fields for the last two weeks in villages in the Naxalbari block near the Indo-Nepal border.
“A group of over 100 elephants has been roaming in different forest villages for the past 15 days and the animals have damaged corn and paddy fields on more than 200 bighas of land. Most of the villagers are spending sleepless nights because of the jumbos,” said Sunil Ghosh, the member of the Naxalbari panchayat samity.
Ghosh said the villagers were going to meet north Bengal development minister Gautam Deb to discuss their problems.
They will submit a memorandum to chief minister Mamata Banerjee to increase the compensation amount and to take necessary measures to prevent elephant depredation in the fringe forest villages.
“The most affected areas are Baro Maniram, Ketugabur, Kilaram, Hatighisha, Damdama and Giramoni, which are adjacent to Kalabari forest under the Panighata range of Kurseong forest division. Apart from damaging the crops, the animals, have also damaged more than 10 dwellings in the villages,” he said. The villages are 40km from here.
Ghosh said the compensation paid to villagers by the forest department for damage caused to their houses and crops by elephants was not enough.
“At present, the villagers are getting Rs 1,500 if a house is damaged and Rs 750 if the crops are destroyed by animals. This amount paid by the forest department is not adequate and we demand that the compensation be increased to at least Rs 7,000 for houses and Rs 3,000 for crops,” the rural body member said.
A meeting was held at the Panighata range office last week to discuss the elephant raids.
Members of the Kurseong forest division and its counterparts from Nepal and rural body members attended the meeting.
“We have requested the foresters to increase the patrolling and to take necessary steps so that elephants raids can be prevented. The monsoon is yet to start in the region and farmers are going to cultivate paddy once the corn are harvested. Keeping this in view, we have asked the foresters to take immediate steps so that the crop is not damaged,” he said.
The officers from the Kurseong forest division admitted that there was a presence of a large number of elephants in Kalabari forest. However, they also said adequate measures were being taken to prevent elephants from entering the fringe villages.
“Elephant depredation in the bordering villages is a common problem for the residents of Naxalbari block, as jumbo raids normally start during the monsoons. But this time, things have becamo different as the herd has reached the forest early and started raiding the adjacent villages,” said Sailesh Anand, the divisional forest officer of Kurseong.
“After the raids, we have formed three squads at Taipoo, Kalabari and Naxalbari, which are working to prevent the elephants from entering villages and damaging crops,” he added.