Two MLAs based in the Dooars have allotted funds of over Rs 70 lakh to install solar-panel streetlights in the lanes of seven tea estates with the aim of preventing animal attacks on the residents of those gardens.
In the Dooars, tea workers and their families in some of the gardens on the fringes of reserve forests and elephant corridors often face attacks from wild elephants.
Elephants apart, leopards and Himalayan black bears also sneak into the tea gardens and attack people, especially after sundown, increasing the chances of man-animal conflict.
Last year, a youth died at Matialli tea estate after a bear attacked him. Residents got agitated and the bear was subsequently beaten to death.
Puna Bhengra, the BJP MLA of Nagrakata, said that for the past few years, incidents of animal attacks have increased in six tea estates and certain localities which are under his Assembly seat.
Tea estate lanes to be illuminated are Nagaisuree, Ingo, Zurantee, Chulsa, Murti and Matialli. These apart, the rural market and the burning ghat in Matialli will also get streetlights.
“Tea workers and their family members have to move through dark stretches in the tea estates. A number of attacks have been reported in those areas. That is why it has been decided to illuminate those stretches with streetlights. I have allocated around Rs 30 lakh from my local area development fund for this purpose,” said the MLA.
Bulu Chik Baraik, the Trinamul MLA of Malbazar and state tribal affairs minister, has allotted Rs 41 lakh for installing streetlights with solar panels at Rungamuttee tea estate on the fringes of the reserve forests.
Right now, administrative officials are surveying the stretches most frequented by wild animals and thus needing streetlights urgently.
“Animals avoid lights. Also, with streetlights in place, people in the gardens can see their surroundings better while crossing through a tea garden road. The lights should be installed in areas where frequent animal sightings have been reported,” said a forest official.
Tea planters’ associations have also welcomed the decision. They said that given the vast area of a tea estate, it is not possible for tea companies to install lights across the entire area.
“Some other MLAs who have been elected from the tea belt should also allot funds for illumination of roads in tea gardens,” said the representative of a tea planters’ association.
Animal activists have said that in the Dooars, elephants enter the tea estates close to the elephant corridor regularly for food as they fail to get a sufficient amount in the forests. Similarly, leopards and bears also sneak into the gardens because their natural habitat doesn’t offer them enough food.