Karnataka’s task force faces uphill task to curb man-animal conflict

The state government had on November 21 notified the constitution of an elephant task force in the wake of rising instances of man-elephant conflict in the districts like Kodagu, Hassan and Chikkamagaluru

Elephant task force karnataka

Bengaluru: Senior officials of the Karnataka forest department are apprehensive that the government’s bid curb the man-animal conflicts by setting up the elephant task force would yield any tangible result.

“It is difficult to check the elephants’ movement in view of growing encroachment of forest areas and the government’s reluctance to notify the reserve forest areas, the proposals of which are pending for many months now,” said a senior officer, adding that wild animals would stray into human habitation if the forested areas are encroached for construction.

The state forest department had on November 21 notified the constitution of an elephant task force in the wake of rising instances of man-elephant conflict in the districts like Kodagu, Hassan and Chikkamagaluru.

The newly constituted task force has been tasked to patrol in the jumbo -infested areas, monitor its movements in human habitation, agriculture fields and coffee estates, and drive them back into forests under the direction of deputy conservator of forests in the districts.

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However, the officials say that they have been doing all this for decades and point out that rampant encroachments of the forest land and the political force encouraging them.

“We have been doing this before. We chased elephants in 1954 from a place called Thaneerhulla in Hassan. It is true that Hassan since then has lost many forest areas owing to the construction of Hemavathi and Yagati dams and then we had to let go of more reserve forest areas to rehabilitate the villagers who lost their land due to the construction of dams. The illegal encroachments of the forest areas and the government’s failure in declaring the Section 4 forest areas as reserve forests under Section 17 of the Karnataka Forest Act has also led to the loss of several acres of forest areas. When there is no forest where would the elephants go?” said a member of the task force.

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The government early this year introduced the Karnataka Land Grabbing Prohibition (Amendment) Bill, 2022, which seeks to avoid criminal proceedings against the farmers who have encroached upon government lands in the rural areas, in the legislative assembly.

In 2013, the Karnataka High Court directed the state government to take measures in declaring the notified forest areas within the elephant corridor as reserve forests. The state has around 1.27 lakh hectares of the Section 4 forest land waiting to be declared as the reserve forest under Section 17.

“The task force must share information about the movement of wild elephants and create awareness among the people not to move in the forest areas. A control room must be set up in the headquarters of every task force and share the contact number with the citizens. The task force members must be provided with walkie-talkie, gun and crackers which are necessary to drive back the wild jumbos into forests. Three Bolero Jeeps must be provided to each district elephant task force to reach the jumbo infested areas immediately. The help of police must be sought at the time of driving back the wild jumbos into forests,” the government order dated November 21 said.

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Wildlife conservationist Joseph Hoover said that the state government has failed in conserving the forest areas.

“Despite being aware of the grim situation, the chief minister Basavaraj Bommai has allowed his cabinet to dole out deemed forest landscape to encroachers in Hassan, Chikamagalur, Uttara Kannada and Shimoga districts. It is for the lack of forest landscapes and fragmentation of animal corridors that elephants are constantly vying for space and food with humans. On one hand, the government desperately wants to mitigate human-animal conflicts, while at the same time it is allowing forest encroachers to legalise their encroachment,” he said.

Unfortunately, the land grabbing legislation hastily cleared by our elected representatives, has rendered the forest department toothless. Forest department can no longer file a case against people who encroach forests. Considering the high density of elephant population (Karnataka has more than 6000) and the impact of climate change triggered extreme climate Events on us, the government should have augmented forest cover.

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