Shrinking forests put elephants and humans in danger

Karanjtoli Village, Kolebira Block, Jharkhand | Warles Surin

Phulmani Dang spent the wee hours of 15th October 2014 locked up in her house with her young children, terrified, as a herd of 16 wild elephants marauded her house and her village. "I couldn't run, so I shut the door and they did all the damage," she recalls. By later that morning when the elephants departed, they had destroyed 6 houses, eaten up stored grains and damaged the standing crops in the fields of 18 people.

After carrying out an inspection of the damage done, the Forest Department compensated the affected families after about 5 months. The compensation ranges from INR 1,00 to 12,000 depending on the losses of each individual family.

Elephant raids in rural Jharkhand have become commonplace over the last decade because of badly planned canals, highways and railroads which serve the singular purpose of facilitating industries. Both people & animals have been left bewildered by the destruction caused by this 'development', and often end up seeking sanctuary in the same spaces, escalating chances of conflict.

The carving out of the state of Jharkhand at the turn of this century acknowledged over 50 years of agitation for separate statehood. Formed on the birth anniversary of Birsa Munda, the creation of this state was a huge achievement for the tribal people of Chhotanagpur & Santhal Pargana. The very name, 'Jharkhand' (meaning forested land) pays homage to the symbiotic relationship between the people and their jungles. The thick forest cover is not only a traditional tribal habitat, but is also home to a wide variety of wildlife & accounts for about 40% of India's mineral resources.

Over the last decade, however, the government of Jharkhand has wantonly issued MoUs permitting multiple 'development' projects, leading to rampant destruction of the very same forests that have protected and sustained its inhabitants for generations. Acres of forests have been felled to make way for smoke spewing factories & coal-dust choked mines, displacing millions of people, diverting millions of tonnes of water for industrial use, slowly but surely converting huge tracts of pristine forests into wasteland.

Written by Radhika

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