|A herd of elephants at Kalabari forest in Naxalbari, 35km from Siliguri, on Saturday|
Siliguri, June 6: Farmers in Naxalbari, in the middle of the corn harvest season, are facing a peculiar resource crisis — a fire cracker crunch.
Fire crackers with a loud bang are just about the only thing they can use to scare away elephants.
These fire crackers, because of their high decibels, are banned for sale in the open market. The farmers get them from forest department officials, who have permission to procure them from some suppliers. At this time of the year, when the corn is to be harvested and also new paddy saplings planted, the villages in Naxalbari block become happy hunting grounds for herds of jumbos.
Foresters said they had been unable to get supplies from the two designated suppliers in north Bengal. The foresters are allowed to procure the fire crackers for the specific purpose of scaring away wild animals.
A forest official also cited funds crunch as a reason for being unable to procure the fire crackers.
Villages such as Boromoniramjote, Ketugabur, Kilaram, Rakomjote and Nepani busty are around 35km from Siliguri.
“The state forest department provides us with sound crackers every year to stop elephant herds from the nearby forests from entering our villages and destroying our crops. Elephants usually come to Naxalbari during this time of the year,” said Sunil Ghosh, a member of the Naxalbari panchayat samiti.
“Not a single cracker has been handed over to the villagers. The sound crackers are not available in the market and we have to depend on the forest department for supplies. The absence of crackers has left the villagers defenceless. They watch as elephants damage their crops,” he said.
According to the local people and sources in the forest department, around 150 elephants are roaming in the Naxalbari belt and the animals often enter villages located near the corridor.
“Over the past couple of weeks, the elephants have damaged crops spread across 4,000 cottahs. If the villagers are not provided with crackers or the state forest department does not make arrangements for adequate staff to watch the elephant movements, we apprehend more damage,” said Khagen Das, a resident of Ketugabur village.
Some villagers said the use of flame torches don’t scare the elephants any more. Going too close to the animals also raises chances of a man-elephant conflict and the risk of injury or death.
Villagers in Naxalbari said they had informed the forest guards about the dire need for sound crackers.
“A meeting was held among the villagers and the foresters last week where the villagers were given 20 search lights to monitor elephant movement. But along with the searchlights, sound crackers are required to ensure that the animals retreat into the jungle,” a villager said.
Sailesh Anand, the divisional forest officer of Kurseong forest, said: “It is true that every year we distribute sound crackers in the villages which are vulnerable to elephant depredation. However, in the current year, we could not procure such crackers due to shortage in supply. Also, there is a shortage of funds, which, however, we expect to receive by the end of this month.”
Anand added: “We have already handed over searchlights and whenever we get such crackers, we will procure and distribute them in these villages.”
Officers and staff of the Panighata range and the wildlife squad based in Bagdogra are monitoring elephant movements round the clock and deterring elephants from entering villages, the forester said.