Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Bhubaneswar, Sep 24:
The elephant population in Odisha continues to rise and so do cases of man-elephant conflict. Even though the government claims to have spent crores under various projects to avert such conflict, 660 men and women have lost their lives in past 10 years.
The number of casualties on the elephant side in this conflict has also been large, though not as large as human casualties.
Out of the 685 elephant death recorded in past 10 years, 272 elephants died a natural death, 89 of them were hunted, 50 died of electric shock and poisoning, 16 died of train accidents, 71 died of drowning in water bodies and slipping from mountains and another 121 for reasons Forest Department couldn’t identify.
As per the 2015 elephant census, the elephant population has gone up to 1954 from 1930. Similarly, the death rate of elephants has also gone up compared to previous years.
The government report goes on to record 660 human deaths caused by elephant attack at various places of the state. Even though the government has paid a compensation of Rs 43.45 crore for the loss of life and crops by elephants, no concrete steps have been taken to put an end of man-elephant conflict, which has caused havoc in many parts of the state.
Experts blame the high rate of animal deaths and increasing man-elephant conflict on the fast loss of habitat of the animals. Rapid industrialization and mining in elephant corridors is the other major reason for recurring instances of such conflict.
With the objective of facilitating free movement of animals from one jungle to another and bring down the chances of conflict the man, the government has identified 14 corridors in the state. But far from coming down, instances of such conflict have actually increased. The crores that the government continues to spend on various projects and schemes have gone down the drain.
A case in point: as per letter number 127/05-22295/FE of the Forest Department, a regional management plan for 10 years had been approved for Keonjhar-Bonei area on December 30, 2015. Under the plan, the government had collected Rs 37 crores from mining lease holders: Rs 23 crores from Keonjhar forest division and Rs 14 crores from the Bonei division. It had also spent another Rs 20 crores from its own coffers to identify the elephant corridors.
However, all that the plan has managed to do is: identify two corridors under Keonjhar Forest range and none in Bonei.
“We had identified eight elephant corridors between 2005-2006 and another six between 2009-10. We are working as per a five-year plan (2012-13 till 2016-17) to manage and develop these corridors at a cost of Rs 5 crore a year,” said Former Forest and Environment Minister Bijayshree Routray.
Current Minister Bikram Arukh echoed the same sentiments and suggested that some changes can only be carried out during the new management action plan scheduled in 2016-17.