Idukki villagers intensify stir
The HC had stayed the “Operation Arikomban” after People for Animals and Walking Eye Foundation for Animal Advocacy approached the court saying the move to capture the elephant and making it kumki through rigorous training was unscientific and cruel
As the high court-appointed expert panel is set to visit wild elephant-affected areas of Idukki in Kerala on Monday, residents of eight panchayats in the district intensified their day-and-night protests, and farmers’ outfits have also announced a march to the HC on Wednesday.
Last week the court had stayed the forest department’s plan to tranquillise and capture a wild jumbo, nicknamed Arikomban, which reportedly killed eight people and destroyed many houses and shops in last two years in Chinnakanal, Santhanpara and Singukandam villages.
Later the court had appointed a five-member committee to explore possibilities of relocating the rogue elephant and suggest long-term measures to end recurring wild elephant attacks in the district. Taking note of the “deplorable condition of captive elephants”, the court said pachyderms cannot be consigned to a life in captivity and making them kumki (captive trainer elephants) is not the solution. The panel was asked to submit its proposals by April 5 and till then darting of the jumbo was barred.
Several areas in Idukki district observed a shutdown on Thursday and people blocked many roads to protest against the eleventh-hour intervention of the court. Many farmers’ outfits have also decided to take out a protest march before the high court on Wednesday and submit a mass memorandum to the Chief Justice, said a spokesman of the Kerala Independent Farmers’ Association. “It is a life and death situation for us. The court’s intervention let us down badly,” said P Rejimon, a farmer who had a miraculous escape from Arikomban two weeks back.
“We are not entering forests but animals are coming out to human habitats and causing immense damage to life and properties of people. We all love forest and wild animals but we cannot live at their mercy,” said Santhanpara panchayat president Liju V. But animal lovers said in 2003 the government had allotted land to 100 landless tribal families near an elephant corridor and later many outsiders also grabbed forest land in the guise of farming and it aggravated the situation. They said around 50 families were still staying in the settlement called 301 Colony.
The HC had stayed the “Operation Arikomban” after People for Animals and Walking Eye Foundation for Animal Advocacy approached the court saying the move to capture the elephant and making it kumki through rigorous training was unscientific and cruel. They said human intervention in the wild and lack of food and water caused by encroachment of forest boundaries were main reasons for the elephant incursions and netting or capturing it was not a permanent solution.
The big tusker was called “Arikomban” because it was fond of rice (in Malayalam rice is ari and komban means male elephant). It used to raid ration shops for rice, so two shops were later shifted to faraway places. After ration shops were shifted, the tusker started attacking houses for rice, said local residents. They said it attacked more than 60 houses and shops and trampled eight people to death in two years. The court order came as the forest department brought four kumki elephants from Wayanad elephant training camp and deployed 11 teams of the rapid response team comprising 70 officers to capture Arikomban.
Forest minister A K Saseendran also expressed his dismay over the court staying the whole operation. “If the court had not intervened, we would have caught the elephant by now. Local residents’ fear and concerns are genuine,” he said. He also camped in Idukki to oversee the operation but returned to the state capital after the high court stayed the operation in a late night sitting on last Wednesday.
Officials had tense moments on Sunday after Arikomban, which is on musth (a periodic condition in bull elephants), came dangerously close to four kumkis brought for the mission to capture the rogue elephant. Later it was shooed away by bursting crackers, officials said, adding since trainer elephants were in chains, it was easy for marauding elephant to attack them.
Kumki elephants are usually used to chase wild animals back to forests when they strayed into human habitat. They also turn saviours when elephants get struck in mud or swamp and also play a key role in training fresh captive elephants.