TEZPUR, Sept 27– Hundreds of villagers in the Sonai-Rupai sanctuary and its adjoining areas have been passing sleepless nights chasing herds of wild elephants which have been destroying their paddy crops and dwellings.
According to information available with this correspondent, more than 3000 farmers of villages like Awjarbari, Thaigirbari, Rupanjali, Sonapur, Ramnathpur, Golai, Jwnkhangri, Jiabari, Kanon-Hadoot, Amlaiguri, Simluguri, Khwisuguri, Boigribari, Kanpur, Adivashi-Sonapur, Alubari, Rangijuli, Bogijuli, Rupajuli and Silkona etc., near the Sonai-Rupai Sanctuary in Sonitpur district have been badly affected by wild elephant herds over the years that have been coming down the Sonai-Rupai sanctuary to the paddy fields every day destroying the paddy fields of the villagers and creating panic among them. The simple and hard working villagers who basically depend upon agriculture, have been living in the area with no security as the department concerned has no policy to check the problem.
“I have a plot of paddy on a 12 bigha plot and the cruel herd of the elephants has already wiped out most of my paddy during the last few days. From my tongi ghar (house that is specially set up on the top of a tree), I watched helplessly as I failed to chase the herd away from paddy field and it also did not pay any heed to my shouting from the tongi ghar. I have seen that the herd never pays heed to our cries and shouts but goes out of the fields only after the stomach is filled or the hunger is removed. Every year we have to give most our produce to the wild elephants. We have no other options for survival except paddy and half of my paddy crop is destroyed by wild elephants every year,” lamented Bana Basumatary of Jiabari village. Bana Basumatary added that the people living in the peripheral villages of Sonai-Rupai sanctuary have got tired losing their crops to the herds of wild elephants every year and majority of villagers have abandoned doing paddy cultivation in their fertile lands and now those plots are miserably becoming a grazing spot.
Sources said that the villagers had set up many tongi ghars during the last few years for guarding their paddy fields but the Forest department never helped them in chasing the elephant herds away from their paddy fields. “Many a time the Forest department, especially the local beat office located in Kalamati gate as well as the District office of the Forest department (wildlife) has been requested to deal with the issue sincerely, but it has remained a fruitless effort. The most tragic thing is that when we take measures to chase the herd of wild elephants away from our paddy fields, the forest guards instead of helping us take action against us. We have already lost faith on them and we did not approach the department this year for help as they never want to give us the necessary equipment for chasing the herd of wild elephants away,” said an affected farmer and president of the Giolai-Jiabari forest village development committee, Prafulla Boro. He added that they have been demanding equipment like search lights for each of the villages of the greater area, compensation for the victim families etc. The villagers of the area said that the Forest minister Rockybul Hussain was informed of the issue many times, but till date no positive result has been achieved.
The villagers said that the elephant depredation began, soon after the massive felling of trees had started in the Sonai-Rupai sanctuary by some Dhekiajuli-based timber smugglers in nexus with a few unscrupulous forest officials. Since then the wild elephants have been destroying paddy and dwellings of the villagers of the area breaking the backbone of the villagers. The villagers said that in elephants’ attack till date more than 16 persons have lost their lives. “We have approached the office of the department concerned many times seeking compensation for the victim families, but not a single penny has been paid to them up till now. We have lost heart and now don’t request the government to pay compensation. We have also abandoned doing paddy cultivation in our small plots of land. Now my family has no other option but to earn livelihood by selling firewood collected from the jungle for our survival,” said Naren Boro, son of late Jamba Boro who was killed recently in an attack by elephants.
A dedicated forest official, Gopal Deka disclosed that the 22 forest villages adjacent to Sona-Rupai Sanctuary looked after by Kalamati Beat touch the Assam-Arunachal border. There are pristine forests with elephant food, but the herds don’t remain in these lush green fields as the wild elephants have become easy targets of poachers. According to him, elephant depredations in the villages located in the fringe areas of the reserved forest happen due to massive felling of trees, lack of proper action by the government to stock up the shortfall of trees felled etc., and the time has come to work together for protection of our natural vegetation and wildlife including the elephants.