KALAIGAON, March 4 - Non-payment of ex gratia to 42 families whose relatives had been killed by wild elephants during the last three years � 2013, 2014 and 2015 � has posed a serious setback to conservation activities of forest department in Udalguri district.
It needs mention that man-elephant conflict in remote villages of Udalguri district bordering Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh has already been recognised as the highest man-elephant conflict zone in India by international conservation organisations like the USFWS, Asian Elephant Support, etc.
Man-elephant conflict casualties in Udalguri district have also been quite high. It was 13 men and eight wild elephants in 2012, 19 men and ten wild elephants in 2013, 24 men and seven wild elephants in 2014 and 21 men and six wild elephants in 2015. The year 2016 has so far seen one human casualty and one elephant death. Thus, it�s very serious to note the casualties of 77 men and 32 wild elephants in just a district alone during the last four years.
The man-elephant conflict scenario improved to some extent last year as members of the �Elephants on the Line� (a local village-based programme for the mitigation of man-elephant conflict in Indo-Bhutan villages of Udalguri district) with support from the USFWS, NCSU, Riddle�s Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary (all based in the USA), Dhansiri Forest Division, Udalguri, tea garden managements and Udalguri civil administration worked hard visiting conflict zone villages in the district to create awareness among the people so as to protect lives and property.
The number of casualties gradually started coming down during 2015. But non-payment of compensation and ex gratia to victim families for the last three years has made the situation worse with affected people refusing to cooperate with the forest department of Udalguri district.
It has been learnt that Assam government and the BTC authority have stopped releasing ex gratia or damage compensation to the victims� families for the last three years. As a result, the role of the forest department in mitigating man-elephant conflict in Udalguri district has now hit a roadblock. The forest department of Udalguri district has already been suffering due to shortage of manpower, vehicles, weapons, etc.
Forest personnel working in Bornadi Wildlife Sanctuary do not have necessary modern gadgets like binoculars, DSLR cameras, night vision devices, etc., to monitor or track wild elephants and other animals. No fund has also been released to the wildlife sanctuary falling under Manas Tiger Reserve during the last year. The situation is worse in Bornadi due to non-availability of vehicles as at least 20 wild elephants are still taking shelter in the wildlife sanctuary.
The compensation for house and crop damages are also yet to be paid to victim families (for the last three years) in the district. The situation has compelled forest personnel to restrict or avoid their movements in the villages under conflict zone fearing public anger, paving the way for poachers or illegal tree-loggers to roam free inside the reserve forests in the district.