In WB’s elephant zone, the forest department escorts students to exam centres | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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In WB’s elephant zone, the forest department escorts students to exam centres

Feb 07, 2024 04:50 PM IST

At least 240 people have been killed in West Bengal in elephant attacks between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022.

Deep Das, 15, a resident of Pakhanna village in West Bengal’s Bankura district, hasn’t seen a wild elephant in his life. But the teenager knows very well that elephants have killed people and can wreak havoc on crops and damage houses. It happened in his village.

West Bengal has the highest—26 out of the 150 elephant corridors—in India. (Shutterstock/Representative) PREMIUM
West Bengal has the highest—26 out of the 150 elephant corridors—in India. (Shutterstock/Representative)

So, on a recent Friday morning, when officials from the West Bengal forest department were escorting school students to the Barjora high school, where they were supposed to appear for the class X state board examination. Das, travelling with them, was tense.

“Elephants move around in these areas. I have heard they sometimes kill people and damage crops. I was a bit tense. But forest officers arranged special vehicles to escort us to the exam centre around 14 km away from our village,” Das said.

The Madhyamik examination (class X board examination) kicked off recently. Nearly a million candidates (9.23 lakhs) are expected to appear for the exam. Many of these candidates live in rural districts, which have witnessed human-elephant conflict over the past few decades.

In February 2023 a state board exam candidate was trampled and killed by an elephant in Jalpaiguri district when he was going to the examination centre with his father on a motorcycle. They had taken a shorter route through a forest.

“Last year too we had made arrangements but this time it is more formalised and elaborate. ‘Hula’ parties (elephant squads) and specially designed Airavat vehicles have been deployed and each movement of elephants is being tracked closely so that students may be escorted safely to exam centres,” said a senior forest official.

Out of the 150 elephant corridors in 15 elephant-range states in India, West Bengal has 26 corridors, the highest among states. West Bengal has 17% of the total elephant corridors. The count is high: While north Bengal has around 488 elephants, south Bengal has around 194 pachyderms.

“In the western circle, which comprises Jhargram, East Midnapore and West Midnapore districts, we have identified around 50 spots from where students need to be picked up and escorted to the exam centres. We have hired multiple vehicles including SUVs and two-wheelers to ferry the students safely,” said AP Singh, chief conservator of forest (western circle), adding that there are around 100 elephants in these districts.

At least 240 people have been killed in the eastern state in elephant attacks between 2019-2020 and 2021-2022. This is the third highest death toll after Odisha and Jharkhand where 322 people and 291 people were killed by elephants respectively during the same period.

“All our staff, hula party members and villagers from the joint forest management committees will be there in the field. Around 50 vehicles have been hired to pick up students from around 23 villages and escort them to the exam centres and bring them back home safely to avoid any untoward incidents,” said S Kulandaivel, chief conservator of forest of the central circle, where there are around 45 elephants.

This year the time of the Madhyamik examination has been advanced. While earlier it started at 11:45 am, this year the start time is 9:45 am; Students have been asked to reach the centres by 8 am.

“As there would be fog in the early morning, we are not taking any chances. Elaborate arrangements have been made this year. This arrangement will also be there when the class 12 board exams start later this month,” said an official.

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