| Collectors, wearing masks on the back of their heads to fox tigers, tap honey in the Sundarbans. (File picture)
Canning, April 9: It’s that time of the year again — the sun is blazing, the bees are buzzing and the honey collectors of the Sundarbans are girdling up to rough out another season in the dangerous forests. As they say their prayers to Dakhin Roy and Bonbibi, the moulis, as they are locally called, can take cold comfort from the knowledge that they have been insured against attacks by the Royal Bengal Tigers and estuarine crocodiles.
The government has initiated a scheme whereby the honey collectors will not have to pay a single paisa from their pockets. The entire expense of their life insurance will be borne by the forest department. Mandatory insurance was introduced last year, but the moulis had to pay a part of the premium.
About 8,000 honey collectors from Canning, Joynagar, Kultali, Bhangor and other places have started for the Sunderbans for the collecting season that runs from April 1 to May 15. They will work in small groups of six to seven members. Last year, around 6,000 persons had ventured into the forest.
A Project Tiger official said last year three persons were killed by tigers while collecting honey. In the past 15 years, the toll stands at 75.
However, more people are interested in going to the forest, even if it means risking their lives, as collecting honey provides them with a one-time lucrative income. The introduction of the new insurance scheme will attract more persons, officials felt.
“The honey collectors come from poor families. Moreover, they risk their lives as they have to work in areas where the tiger roams. This waiver of insurance fees will help the moulis financially and will also give strong support to their families in case of an unforeseen incident,” Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve director A.K. Raha said.
Last year, the insurance amount stood at Rs 20,000. This time it has been raised by Rs 10,000. “Usually, deaths during honey collection are not many. But last year, unfortunately, three persons were killed by tigers. But all them were covered under the insurance scheme,” Raha said.
About 35,000 tonnes of honey was collected from the mangrove forests last year and sold through the state’s Forest Development Corporation. Officials expect the collection will go up by around 25 per cent this year.