BY SUBRATA BISWAS
Rampant deforestation and loss of habitat in Odisha and Jharkhand forced elephants to migrate to the forests of Chhattisgarh in the 1980s. In Raigarh, Korba, Jashpur and Surguja districts, where a lot of forest land is being diverted for coal mining, foraging elephants often enter villages, attracted by the crops in the fields. Official records say the resulting human-elephant conflict has caused 8,657 incidents of property damage and 99,152 incidents of crop damage between 2005 and 2014. Chhattisgarh has also recorded more than 200 deaths caused by the conflict.
A densely forested state with more than 40 tribal communities, the state is has an estimated 50 billion tonnes of coal reserves, among the largest in India. As mining companies increasingly go for open-cast mining for economic benefit, villagers are the worst hit as they lose land and mining companies often don’t honour their promises of rehabilitation and compensation. The natural landscape of Korba has changed rapidly every year after the first open-cast mine began operating.
In 2005, hoping to minimise human-elephant conflict, the Chhattisgarh assembly passed a resolution seeking central approval for two elephant reserves. One of them was the 450 sq. km Lemru reserve in Korba district, which received a clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2007, but was shelved by the state government in 2008 to facilitate coal mining in virgin forest.
(Subrata Biswas is a painter and photographer based in Kolkata.)
The photo story of the November 2016 issue of Fountain Ink.