| An elderly man sits in front of his house damaged by wild elephants in Jorhat.
Jorhat, Oct. 6: It is not Ma Durga but Lord Ganesha on their minds in the run-up to Durga Puja.
Elephants straying out of Gibbon wildlife sanctuary in Mariani and destruction of crop in recent times have sent nearby villagers, tea garden workers and the forest department into a tizzy.
Villagers are praying and forest staff planning to keep the elephants at bay to prevent death and destruction. Congress MLA of the area Rupjyoti Kurmi expressed helplessness.
The man-elephant conflict has raised the demand for firecrackers from the people of the villages in the surrounding areas to ward off elephants that have been attracted by ripening of paddy.
Rajen Bhumij, a worker of Sycotta tea estate, said for almost a fortnight a herd of elephants had been straying into paddy fields inside and outside the gardens and creating havoc.
Bhumij said the herd had damaged labour quarters and granaries.
“Now festive mood is building up everywhere with Puja commencing this week, but people here are spending sleepless nights in fear and uncertainty as the elephants seemed to be in a ravaging mood,” Bhumij said.
“We are praying to Ganesh baba to save our lives and property and for the return of the elephants to the sanctuary,” he said, adding that people were regularly offering prayers at a Ganesh temple near Gibbon at Dihingiapara tea garden.
Hemanta Hazarika, a resident of nearby Madhurpur village, echoing Bhumij, said people were worried and taking turns to protect the fields along with forest guards.
Mariani range officer Dibakar Medhi told this correspondent that elephants (numbering about 40), had been regularly straying out of the sanctuary after sunset. He said the herd had been splitting into small groups thus making the task of six forest guards difficult.
“Our guards have been bursting firecrackers and at times are firing in the air to disperse the elephants. The affected villagers, too, have been demanding crackers to ward off the elephants and the demand is increasing,” Medhi said.
The official said using crackers to chase away the elephants is a better option than blank firing.
The cost of ammunition is much more than that of crackers and there is less risk of causing damage to the elephants and villagers in case of a freak firing.
Ruing government’s apathy towards the problem, Kurmi, who has been joining people during nights in chasing the elephants, said his letters on the problem and personally informing forest minister Rakibul Hussain and chief minister Tarun Gogoi had not yielded results.
The MLA said he had been providing torchlights to the people.
The sanctuary, with an area of 20.48 square km, is an ideal habitat for two to three elephants.
According to forest department sources, the population of the elephants in the sanctuary has gone up to 40 from 20 in eight years.
The worst-affected areas are Govindpur, Madhurpur, Bhogpur, Pukhuria, Fesuwal, Meleng and Dhekiajuli villages and the affected tea gardens include Moormooria, Dukhlongia, Hooloongur, Kathalguri, Hatigarh and Bheluguri.