Chhattisgarh to set aside paddy for wild elephants to stop them entering villages

AS PART of the state forest department’s pilot project to stop wild elephants from entering villages, the Chhattisgarh government has set aside paddy acquired in 2019-2020 for “elephant management” in nine districts.

“For management of elephants, it has been directed to provide paddy of 2019-2020 to the forest department at the cost of procurement in Gariyaband, Balod, Sarguja, Raigarh, Surajpur, Korba, Dhamtari, Kanker and Mahasamund,” the Chhattisgarh State Cooperative Marketing Federation said in a letter to the Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) dated July 22.

According to the letter, the paddy was sourced from Raipur, Mahasamund, Bilaspur and Surajpur districts at Rs 2,095.83 per quintal. The letter, however, didn’t specify the quantities set aside for the nine districts.

P V Narsingha Rao, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), said the pilot project would be implemented in a couple of villages at first. “We will procure only 10 quintals for the pilot project in the beginning,” he said.

Forest department sources said the objective was to distract elephants from entering villages. “Most elephant-human conflicts happen when the tuskers enter the villages foraging for food. By providing them paddy outside the villages, we are pre-empting the conflict,” said a forest department official.

Environmentalists, however, have raised questions about the plan of action. “Wild animals can’t be force-fed. In the wild, elephants eat barks and roots of certain trees. They also like to eat young shoots and other parts of trees. When they come to villages, it is because of shortages in forests. Even then, they consume mahua stored in houses. Only in desperation do the elephants eat paddy, as paddy husks hurt their sensitive trunks,” said elephant expert and activist Mansoor Khan.

Leader of Opposition Dharamlal Kaushik also questioned the decision. “When fresh paddy was auctioned at Rs 1,400 recently, why is rotten and old paddy being bought at Rs 2,095? We suspect that the government is going to use the CAMPA (Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority) funds to ration the losses made by their mismanagement,” Kaushik said.

Incidentally, the state government was unable to fulfill its paddy quota at the Food Corporation of India in 2019-2020. According to an FCI letter to the state government, “the total CMR (custom milled rice) to be delivered to FCI was 28.1 LMT (lakh metric tonnes) for KMS (kharif marketing season) 2019-2020. However, State Govt. of CG (Chhattisgarh) could deliver only 26.38 LMT CMR.”

“The paddy stocks couldn’t be picked on time because they were rotting. Now that they have been stored for two rainy seasons, they would have either rotten further or sprouted, making the paddy unfit for consumption,” said a rice miller from Raipur.

In the past three years, 204 deaths have been reported in the state due to to man-elephant conflict. The elephant count in the state is estimated at 290.

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