AMBIKAPUR (CHHATTISGARH): Man-animal conflict has been a persistent problem in Sarguja in north Chhattisgarh, where marauding wild elephant herds have claimed dozens of lives in. Now, the district administration appears to have found a novel way to ward off elephant attacks without causing harm to the animals.
Sarguja district, about 320 km north of Raipur, has been the menace for over a decade and a half, with wild elephants often straying into rural habitats and killing people. As many as 199 people have been killed by elephants in the state, according to state forest minister Mahesh Gagda.
“Any compensation or relief can never be a substitute for loss of human lives,” says Sarguja collector Kiran Kaushal. So, the administration thought of a plan to make anganwadi centres double up as ‘protection centres’ from elephant herds.
“About 117 villages of Sarguja are on the elephant corridor. So, besides the physical barriers to safeguard the village habitats, we have successfully experimented a safety mechanism through ‘Angadwadi-cum-Elephant Crisis Management Centre’ to prevent injuries and deaths to humans caused by wild tuskers,” Kaushal told The Sunday Standard.
To do away with recurring repair of damaged houses every year, the Sarguja administration decided to rehabilitate the residents of Patelpara and Barpara—two villages that saw frequent attacks by the pachyderms—to a new safe hamlet, Kandraja. Pooling funds from the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and relief funds, 55 new houses were constructed for resettlement and rehabilitation.
The district administration also constructed a 2.5 km-long ‘elephant proof trench’ along the village fringe to restrict the intruding animals.
However, to rehabilitate the remaining 115 villages was not possible. So, a novel way was designed to mitigate the challenge on minimising human casualties. A unique Angadwadi-cum-Elephant Crisis Management Centre in all the 117 villagers was conceptualised.
The centre has a singular infrastructural feature built at a height of 18 feet, which is almost 6 feet more than the average height of an elephant. These centres are surrounded by blinking lights and sirens, which, when combined, are very effective tools to frighten away elephant herds.
“Owing to the elephants, the routine working of most of the angadwadi centres was a big. Now, there is a freedom from fear and worries,” said Neelu Chaudhary, who has been an angadwadi worker for the past 12 years in Ambikapur.
On the rooftop of each centre, a shed has been constructed to offer a safe place to villagers who can use it as shelter in case of an elephant attack.
In addition to this, every centre has been provided with an ‘elephant protection kit’, which contains a pen drive that has a short tutorial on ‘dos & don’ts’ during elephant attacks and a speaker system with a mic to listen to the tutorial. In addition, torch, iron box, backpack, track suit etc. are also provided in the kit.