Factory buzz in 200-jumbo frenzy

three killed, 900 homeless in central assaMA house razed by elephants in Nagaon. Telegraph picture

Nagaon, Jan. 10: A herd of 200-odd elephants has been on the rampage for a week over a large tract of central Assam and has killed three people and destroyed 200 dwellings, but forest officials are clueless how to drive them away.
Over 900 people have fled their villages in the area, which lies at the border between the plains district of Nagaon and hilly Karbi Anglong, and have taken refuge in three relief camps.
Some of them alleged that the herd had stumbled into human settlements after being forced to change its route because a cement factory was being constructed in the elephant corridor.
Forest officials said they wanted to chase the elephants into the nearby Lumding reserve forest with help from the police, but were still waiting because they weren’t sure how that could be done.
The route to the forest from the herd’s current location passes through pockets of human habitation, including the bustling town of Lanka, they said.
“There are more than 40 calves in the herd. We are still unsure how to guide these animals to the reserve forest through a densely populated area,” said Hojai divisional forest officer Pravakar Das.
Das did not mention the cement factory. He said the herd, which had come down from the Lamsakhang reserve forest in Karbi Anglong district, had changed its route after local people obstructed its path near the foothills.
The first death occurred on January 4 evening in Nakhuti near Lumding, a major railway junction. The animals destroyed 26 houses and trampled to death Dilip Marak, 51, who was on his way home to Sarthegaon village.
The same night, Munindra Das of Lanka was seriously injured in another attack. He died the next day at the Lanka community health centre.
On January 5, the elephants killed a 50-year-old woman and injured two others seriously in Pipalpukhuri village.
“We were asleep when the herd arrived. When we heard the sound of houses being crushed, most of us fled the village. Patia Devi, 50, died during the attack,” said Bikash Chauhan, a Pipalpukhuri resident.
“We returned with forest officials and the police, and rescued Santi Devi and Gangajoli Devi from the rubble of their damaged houses. Both were admitted to Nagaon civil hospital in a critical condition.”
Hojai sub-divisional officer (civil) Munindra Sarma said: “The condition of the two injured women is serious but stable.”
The forest department and the local administration have opened three relief camps at Gosaigaon and Pipalpukhuri. Nagaon deputy commissioner M. Angamuthu said that till yesterday, 300 blankets along with rice, dal and salt had been distributed among the camps’ 900-odd inmates.
According to official data, the herd destroyed 64 dwellings in the Karbi Anglong village of Kheroni alone. Most of the people in that area are Hindi speakers.
“A Karbi Anglong Autonomous Council team paid a visit but they washed their hands of us after distributing 2,000kg rice and 200 blankets,” said Sidhinath Jha of Maillo village.
Hamren divisional forest officer Jibanananda Hazarika said forest personnel were patrolling the affected areas along with the police.
He hoped “some concrete measures would be taken to permanently solve” the recurring man-elephant conflicts in the area.
Angamuthu, the deputy commissioner, said the Nagaon and Karbi Anglong administrations were in touch with the forest department to figure out a way of pushing the elephants back to the forests.