Ele­phan­tine block

A wall to keep ele­phants at bay ends up alien­at­ing peo­ple in an Ut­tarak­hand vil­lage


MANY TECH­NIQUES have been em­ployed by peo­ple and gov­ern­ments to keep wild ele­phants out of hu­man set­tle­ments, or at least to re­duce their visi­ta­tion rates. Fire-crack­ers and bon­fires, elec­tric fences, cul­ti­va­tion of tobacco and red chilies and deep trenches have been tried so far. For the first time, an ‘ele­phant-proof ’ wall has been con­structed to mit­i­gate con­flict with the large her­bi­vores.We were in Chor­galia,a picturesque re­gion in the Hi­malayan foothills, 20 km from Hald­wani,Ut­tarak­hand,to learn about the wall con­structed by res­i­dents of the ham­let in late 2013. The vil­lage res­i­dents grap­ple with prob­lems of crop-raid­ing by ele­phants and other wildlife,as Chor­galia is lo­cated on the edge of thick sal forests,now in- cluded in the Nand­haur Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary.

The one-kilo­me­tre wall,built with stone and ce­ment, is over 2.4 m tall and about 0.5 m thick, run­ning along the east­ern edge of Chor­galia abut­ting the for­est.A jagged steel strip with a ra­zor-sharp toothed edge was em­bed­ded along the top por­tion along the length of the wall. A nar­row stair­case was pro­vided ev­ery 500 m along the wall to en­able hu­man move­ment. The wall looked ro­bust and cost ` 40 lakh. Since the funds had run out mid-way,the wall could not be com­pleted and en­closes only a part of the vil­lage. For­est depart­ment of­fi­cials be­lieve the wall is the most ef­fec­tive mit­i­ga­tion method used so far in Ut­tarak­hand.

So what’s in a wall, one would ask? And has it at­tained its ob­jec­tive? We con­ducted a sur­vey among lo­cal vil­lage res­i­dents.We tried to ex­plore the ex­tent to which the wall had re­duced crop-raid­ing by ele­phants,but ended up find­ing out more about the per­cep­tions of lo­cal peo­ple re­gard­ing this mit­i­ga­tion struc­ture and other im­pacts the ele­phant wall had on peo­ple’s lives.

Chor­galia com­prises four rev­enue vil­lages with a di­verse com­mu­nity, both caste and class wise.About 66 per cent vil­lage res­i­dents own land,while the re­main­ing 34 per cent are land­less and com­pletely de­pen­dent on wage labour or odd jobs for their sus­te­nance. Land­less peo­ple also tend to be heav­ily de­pen­dent on fu­el­wood, while the more pros­per­ous use other house­hold en­ergy sources such as bio­gas and lpg, in ad­di­tion to wood. As is typ­i­cal of the terai land­scape,agri­cul­tur-

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