The tea gardens of the Dooars are known to be human animal conflict zones; infrastructure development, illegal mining and land fragmentation are only adding to the problem.
“An elephant attacked my father when he was coming back from another village. The Forest Department took him to a hospital but by the time I got there, he was no more”, says Bikash Kharia, a tea garden worker at the Bhatkawa Tea Garden in Alipurduar, West Bengal.
Kharia’s father, Abhiram, is not the first victim of human animal conflict in the region. According to a TERI study, almost 90 percent of the tea gardens in the Jalpaiguri-Alipurduar region fall in the human animal conflict zone. Bhatkawa is also in the same area as the Buxa Tiger Reserve and the region has several earmarked ‘elephant corridors’ as well. Between 2010 and 2015, the annual figures for incidents of human-animal conflict in India ranged between 66,940 and 108,853, according to a study.
“As far as I know, six people have died in the Badaline area of the tea garden. Even in nearby Hathkola, there have been similar deaths. Even the damage to our crops and property is huge,” says Kamal Oraon, a panchayat member.
According to the Gajah report, human-elephant conflict damaged nearly one million hectares of cropland every year and destroyed 10,000-15,000 properties.
Both central and state governments offer compensation for loss of life and damage to property and crops by human animal conflict. The compensation amount is not uniform for all states, neither is it a simple process. Moreover, as it is in the case of Kharia’s family, there is little information and awareness about the compensation.
“We have heard that the government provides some compensation, but only educated and informed families seem to get it,” says Oraon.
“Only those who really try hard get some money, which might make up for the losses,” he adds. The daily wage for tea garden labourers is merely 150 rupees a day, both Kharia and his mother cannot afford to lose multiple days’ wages to make repeated trips to concerned government offices.
Community Correspondent Harihar Nagbansi, who reported the issue, also went to the Range Officer’s office at the Buxa Tiger Reserve but the official refused to speak on camera. However, four months later, a letter sanctioning the compensation was released by the Deputy Field Director of the Buxa Tiger Reserve. Kharia’s family is yet to receive the amount, albeit.
But compensation is an immediate, short term solution, that too one embroiled in inconsistencies, bureaucratic procedures. Scholars and experts argue that the solution instead lies in prevention and mitigation measures.
At the root of human animal conflict is depleting forest cover, infrastructural encroachment, land fragmentation owing to roads, rail routes and settlements, and large-scale intrusive activities like mining. The government must, therefore, address these issues, and involve vulnerable communities in the ideation and execution of the preventive measures.
Video by Community Correspondent Harihar Nagbansi
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team
Many applications later, hundreds of people continue to suffer.