The state government is working on a plan to dig trenches connected with electricity to rein in marauding elephants and prevent them from destroying people’s homes in south Bengal, Mr Bratya Basu, state forest minister, said in the state Assembly today.

“The state government is looking at the bigger picture and that is why it is trying to prevent elephant attacks rather than focussing on the homes being destroyed. The homes that are destroyed by the elephants are mostly Kutcha homes or hutments. And the government compensation to repair those homes is too small to get repairs done in a proper way,” said Mr Basu.

The minister’s reply came on a question raised by CPIM legislator Subir Chakraborty who contended that the compensation of Rs 50,000 was too paltry a sum to repair a kutchha house in a proper way. Was the govt taking any step to increase the compensation, he asked.

Mr Basu said that that the government had already hiked the compensation from Rs 50,000 but what is needed was a deterrent that can prevent the elephant onslaught.

“The incidents of elephants destroying fields of crops and granaries are on the rise as there is no natural habitat for elephants in south Bengal. However, the forest division has set up an Elephant Movement Coordination Committee (EMCC) to tackle this menace. The EMCC brings together officials of different districts through WhatsApp groups and email exchanges, updating a herd’s movement. A special human-wildlife conflict mitigation cell has been established which sends out bulk SMS alerts to villagers warning them about a particular herd. This is an early warning system to prevent human casualty.”

On the matter of speeding up compensation payment he adds, “In the case of deaths, we are giving 80 per cent of the compensation on the spot and in case of crop damage, within two months.”

S S Bisht, former director of Project Elephant, a central scheme aimed at protecting elephants, their habitat and corridors, says, “The root of the elephant problem lies in Jharkhand. Large-scale clearing of forests and mining activities in the state have displaced elephants from their forest home. The Subarnarekha canal, a joint project by Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal has cut off old migratory routes.”