Community Correspondent Mohan Bhuiyan reports from Jitratongri village in Hazaribagh District, Jharkhand, where a herd of elephants destroyed fourteen houses and resulted in the death of one individual in September 2013. For about two weeks the herd camped in the nearby forests and repeatedly came into human habitats in search of water.
Their original habitats have been taken over by machines plundering the forests for coal and iron ore mines. The once green havens are coated in a near apocalyptic layer of mineral dust. Where else would the elephants go?
In Jitratongri as the residents grew increasingly fearful and agitated with the damage being done, the Forest Department officials did little to help ease the situation. On the day that the fatality took place, the Officer in charge came 10 hours after the event.
“This has become one of our greatest fears. You can see how much damage they have done… houses and boundary walls are being broken. We do not have any courage to stand before them. We somehow beat on tin vessels or burn fire torches to scare them away” says Naresh Turi, a resident of the area who has of late spent far too many nights awake trying to keep his fellow villagers safe from elephants.
Though a small amount was paid as initial compensation to the family of the deceased, the remaining money for those whose houses were damaged has still not been paid. The residents had also demanded for equipment like torches to help keep the elephants away.
Mohan, whose own village is threatened by imminent destruction to make way for two coal mines, has documented every possible aspect of the effect these activities have on the people and nature of the surrounding areas.
Over the past twenty years the number of such incidents across Jharkhand and its neighbouring states, Odisha, West Bengal and Chhattisgarh have dramatically increased. The entire belt is the most mineral rich area of India and of course to get to the minerals, jungles must be chopped down. According to Greenpeace, 26,000 hectares of forests have been cleared for coal mining since 2007. In total around a million hectares are in danger.
In December, when Mr. Moily became the Environment Minister, he went on a mission to give environmental clearances to industrial projects worth INR 2.5 trillion!! This includes projects like the POSCO port in Odisha which will further endanger Olive Ridley Turtles; multiple mining projects in Madhya Pradesh surrounding Tiger habitats and coal projects in Jharkhand that fall smack in the middle of an elephant corridor.
In Jharkhand there is evidence and more of how open-cast mines have drastically damaged the paths that elephants have used to migrate from one area to the next. This takes elephants to previously unexplored areas and to human habitats where they put themselves and humans in grave danger.
Are we as a nation willing to be so tunnel visioned? Do our successive governments see that in this race to boost the economy through extractive industries we will lose everything else that matters– human lives and wildlife?
At this moment, the residents of Jitratongri, Hazaribagh are facing the worst of the consequences of extractive industries. You can start by solving that problem.
Call to Action: Please call the District Forest Officer, AK Singh on 09431142824 and ask him provide people with necessary equipment to protect themselves from elephant attacks and the compensation they are still owed.
By Kayonaaz Kalyanwala