The West Bengal Forest department will employ local youths as 'Gajamitras' (friends of elephants) in pockets of south Bengal where depredation by wild elephants is causing serious problems for the locals, state minister Jyotipriya Mallick said Tuesday.
The forest department is also introducing an app which can be installed on mobile phones and be of use to the 'Gajamitras' with real-time information about the movement of herds in their neighbourhood and take preventive measures to stop any clash, Mallick, who holds the forest portfolio told reporters in his chamber on the Assembly premises. The youths aspiring to be 'Gajamitras' will undergo thorough screening and tests to be conducted by a reputed agency. "The government will have no role whatsoever," he said.
The 'Gajamitras' will be given android sets by the forest department for activating the mobile app, which is yet to be named. The facility will be extended to the local people later.
He said the beat ranger and divisional forest officer will be connected through the app.
Initially, Jhargram, Paschim Medinipur and Purulia districts in south Bengal will be brought under the proposed Gajamitra project and later extended to Alipurduar and Jalpaiguri in the northern part of the state, the minister said.
"We have noticed that incidents of rampage by elephants have been more frequent in the three south Bengal districts. Hence, the Gajamitra scheme will be first rolled out in elephant-infested human habitations in the Jangalmahal belt and later extended to north Bengal," Mullick said.
To a question on measures taken to avert the death of wild elephants while crossing railway lines in Alipurduar, he said the forest department will provide the mobile app of loco pilots and station masters so that there is advance information about any assembling of jumbos on train tracks.
The minister said the department is also looking into the straying of elephants from Jharkhand to nearby areas in Bengal and ensuring there is no loss to wildlife.
"At present, there is a herd of 70 elephants at Barjora in Bankura. We are feeding them and trying to drive them away in a compassionate manner. Twenty of them have already been driven away," he added.