Till a few months ago, residents of five villages of Odisha’s Sundargarh district had a terrible time shielding themselves and their crops from marauding elephants.
But then the forest department came up with the idea of putting up a solar fence around the villages instead of using technology to confine wild elephants to the forests. It became an instant hit as the solar fence has now turned out to be a fortress for villagers keeping the rampaging jumbos at bay.
The 20-km-long solar fence is a lifeline for 3,000-odd villagers of Beheramunda, Badrampia, Purna, Khursi and Khajurbahal situated near the Hemgiri forest range of Sundargarh.
Elephant raids were so frequent that one villager had a close shave and acres of ready-to-harvest crops used to be crushed by the jumbos. Crop compensation to the tune of Rs. 18 lakh has already been disbursed in the area. The compensation was, however, too little for them considering the fact that the department had fixed a payment of Rs. 10,000 for loss per acre while the villagers would have sold the paddy for Rs. 42,000 from the same field.
Moreover, bore-wells dug by villagers were also damaged by the wild elephants. The situation had turned so bad that parents were afraid to send their wards to school. As many as 19 elephants from Debrigarh sanctuary and 12 resident elephants had been raiding homes and crop fields.
“Residents of five villages used to stage demonstration in front of our offices demanding protection against wild elephants. Then, we thought human lives are precious and their crops too. If their concerns are not addressed immediately, villagers would turn against elephants and human-elephant confrontations would become critical. Then, we fenced all five villages and their agricultural land with solar powered wire,” said Arun Mishra, Sundargarh Divisional Forest Officer.
Now, people routinely patrol entry-exit passage to village. If elephant or any other animals touch the fence, alarms go off automatically and residents take precautionary steps.
“We have noticed that elephants have now stopped entering these villages and migrated to neighbouring Chhattisgarh,” said Habiram Choudhury, Hemgiri range officer.