[ Ranjit Sinha ]
The elephant population in Arunachal Pradesh has remarkably increased from 890 in 2012 to 1,614 in 2017. As per the elephant census report of 2017, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand have together recorded an increase of more than 1200 wild elephants during the last five years.
With the increase in the elephant population and encroachment of their habitat, seven human casualties or deaths were caused during 2013-’14 in the state due to human-elephant conflicts. However, the figure came down to one each in the year 2014-’15 and 2015-’16, respectively. At the beginning of 2017, a 56-year-old man in Mebo subdivision of East Siang district was seriously injured in February due to an elephant attack. According to unconfirmed reports, wild elephants had claimed a few lives in the same area in the past also.
Even though Arunachal Pradesh does not witness a large number of human and elephant casualties, the repeated destruction of paddy fields almost every year during peak cultivation and harvest season severely affects the livelihood of the people, particularly in some areas of the Siang and Kameng valleys.
Mebo subdivision hogs the limelight more often than not due to the elephants. During the second week of this month, a herd of around 200 elephants damaged paddy fields and fruit orchards at Mer Village in Mebo subdivision. In August 2013, the villagers in Mebo had to bear the brunt of the elephants. Similarly, wild elephants create havoc in Ruksin circle many a time during the harvest season.
Fed up with the continued destruction created by wild elephants, the people of remote Painaktang village near the Indo-Bhutan border in West Kameng district gave up their paddy cultivation a decade ago. The villagers took up cultivation of aromatic plants as an alternative to paddy cultivation, under the guidance of the Lucknow (UP)-based Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR)-Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, and Tezpur University in Assam.
Human-elephant conflicts have been increasing due to encroachment on elephant habitats or due to interruption in the elephants’ movement.
There are 23 elephant corridors in the northeastern region, including Arunachal Pradesh, with one corridor for every 1,565 sq km. However, over 90 percent of these corridors in the region are either agricultural or jhum land, and almost two-thirds of the corridors have a national or state highway passing through them, disturbing elephant habitats and their movement.
Along with the people, the state and the central governments are equally responsible for the human-elephant conflicts as they have encroached on the elephant corridors, or are disturbing the elephant movement by constructing railway lines, highways, and other government infrastructure.
The government should therefore involve community people while preparing a policy for securing elephant corridors and minimizing the dependence of people on corridor land. It must ensure that the rights of the people over their ancestral cultivation and jhum land are also well protected, and that the community people develop a sense of ownership towards elephant corridors too.
The Centre’s Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) this month approved the continuation of the centrally-sponsored umbrella scheme of integrated development of wildlife habitats beyond the 12th Plan. The scheme includes ‘Project Tiger’, ‘Development of Wildlife Habitats’, and ‘Project Elephant’, with a total central share of Rs 1731.72 crore.
The CCEA foresees that the schemes would address the human-wildlife conflict effectively and the communities opting for voluntary relocation from the core/critical tiger habitats would be benefited. The schemes would also generate direct employment of about 30 lakh mandays annually, which would include many local tribes.
It is now up to the resource-crunched state government as to how it convinces the central government for early release of fund under this umbrella schemes for the welfare of the people and the animals.