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Jumbo diplomacy: Fenced out by Nepal, elephants present Bengal with a headache

The fence was set up about a year ago by the Nepal government in collaboration with international agencies, seeking to protect agricultural fields from elephants.

Written by Aniruddha Ghosal | Kolkata |
July 8, 2016 1:04:26 am
An electric fence erected by Nepal has blocked elephants’ migratory route. (Source: Express/File photo) An electric fence erected by Nepal has blocked elephants’ migratory route. (Source: Express/File photo)

For over a century, elephants had been using a migratory route along the banks of the river Mechi that separates India from Nepal. Now an electric fence 18 km long has been preventing elephants from crossing over to Nepal from the Indian side, the very purpose for which the Nepal government had set it up. The now agitated elephants are “causing havoc” in north Bengal, the West Bengal government has written to the Centre, urging it to raise the matter with Nepal.

The fence was set up about a year ago by the Nepal government in collaboration with international agencies, seeking to protect agricultural fields from elephants. “The fence is designed to lean outwards,” said an official of the Nepal forest department, who wished not to be named. “The base of the post cannot be reached even with the elephant’s trunk and as a result it is impossible for the elephant to kick at the post and damage it. The posts themselves are insulated with galvanised iron pipes and an electric circuit is created only when the elephant touches the fence.”

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Crop-raiding by elephants that had previously travelled from India to Jhapa of Nepal, the official said, had become a critical issue. At least 21 people had died in Jhapa, while another 24 people had been injured, the official said.

Nepal’s solution, however, has become an issue with the West Bengal forest department. “The migratory pattern was from east to west… along our border with Nepal, the elephants would cross over, spend two months in Nepal and then come back,” said Chandan Sinha, principal secretary in the Bengal forest department. “Since last year on the Nepal side, they have put up an 18-km electric fence which is preventing the elephants from going there. This has created problems on our side. We have taken up this issue with the Government of India and we are hoping that something will be done soon. We have requested them to take it up with the Nepal government.”

Earlier this month, Forest Minister Binay Krishna Barman held a meeting with department officials in Sukna in Darjeeling and brought up the fence along the border.

This corridor had been identified by ‘Rights of Passage’, a 2005 study by the Ministry of Environment and Forests and Wildlife Trust of India, as the Mahananda-Kolbari elephant corridor. “Severe fragmentation and degradation of forest in Tukriajhar and along the Mechi River has made this habitat unsuitable for the long-term survival of elephants and has increased conflict,” the study had noted. “Hence, efforts should be made to restrict the movement of elephants beyond the Balason River.” It had suggested the declaration, demarcation and legal protection of the corridor under various laws and seeking of alternatives to Mahananda-Mechi Terari village. Officials admitted that little follow-up had been done by the West Bengal forest department.

“If the movement of elephants is blocked, it will cause disaster for places such as Kolabari and inhabited areas in the Panighata range,” an official said. “The angry animals will charge through villages and attack people living on the Indian side. The decision by the Nepal government to erect the fence was taken after joint efforts by the two governments had failed to mitigate the issue.”

The Nepal government has maintained that all international guidelines were followed by the government while putting up the fence, which was constructed at a cost of Rs 8 million (Indian).

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