Striking Photographs From The Man-Elephant Conflict In India’s Coal Belt

Striking Photographs From The Man-Elephant Conflict In India’s Coal Belt

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I. Gouri Mondal is a former inhabitant of Baisi colony in Dharamjaigarh. She and her family had to leave their residence 6 months ago while herds of elephants damaged their house in a sudden attack in night. She stated that now she and her family have to take shelter in a neighbour's house. Only a Rs.7000/- compensation has reached them from the government.

II. “We were sleeping when the elephants broke into our room. Somehow we managed to escape but I fractured my left leg when a large part of the wall fell on me.  My husband Hetuaram Khalkho (75) saved my life from the elephants,” recalls Rujri Khalkho (70) at her home at Fitting Para village of Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh, that was damaged by a herd of wild elephants at night almost one year ago.

The compensation of Rs. 10,000 that was given to her was not enough to repair their home or treat her leg. Owing to decreasing forest cover and food in the jungles of Chhattisgarh, wild elephants have learnt to barge into villages and attack people who cross their path as they look for food in the fields.

III. Spread over 1,127 hectares and with a total production capacity of 18.75 million tonnes per annum, Kusmunda in Korba, Chhattisgarh is one of the largest coal mines in Asia. About 12 villages were acquired for the mine when it was commissioned in 2008, and recently, on December 1, 2014, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change gave South Eastern Coalfields Limited permission to expand its production to 62.5 million tonnes per annum.

The plan involves the acquisition of an additional 1,127 hectares of land including 372 hectares of forests. The expansion is expected to lead to the displacement of 9,250 families in 17 villages and affect another 5,475 families indirectly.

IV. In coal-rich Chhattisgarh, Korba itself has 13 large coal mines, including India’s largest opencast mine at Gevra, with a total production capacity of about 94 million tonnes per annum.

The natural landscape of Korba has been changing rapidly every year since the first open-cast mine began operating here Thousands of people have lost their residential and agricultural land and pollution levels have shot up to such levels that Korba was ranked third among the most critically polluted areas (CPAs) in the country in 2014-15.

V. Chhattisgarh has an estimated 50,846 million metric tonnes of coal reserves, one of the largest in India. As mining companies increasingly prefer open-cast mining for operational and economic benefits, villagers are the worst hit as they lose land and mining companies often don't honour their promises of rehabilitation and compensation.

In 2009, Kanti Bai Sau (40) of Chhal village in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh, lost her home and one-acre farm to an open-cast coal mine owned by ACC Ltd., for which she is yet to receive the promised compensation of Rs.2 lakh and a job to a family member.  Her son died last year of respiratory complications. “There is no fresh air to breath, fresh water to drink. Coal has usurped everything here,” she said. She alleges that officials with the ACC Ltd have recently destroyed her current home forcefully to grab the land for mine and have been threatening them to relocate to a different place.

VI. “We can’t stay at home when blasting takes place in mines as lot of stones fly out of the mine areas and hit our roof. They break the roof sheets and sometimes the walls develop cracks because of heavy tremors,” says Ratna Bai (50) of Sarasmal village in Tamnar, Chhattisgarh.

Ratna Bai’s family lost 10 acres of agricultural land and their house to an open-cast coal mine opened by Jindal in 2008 and they now reside at a new house they built just about 20 feet away from the mine, from which she says the company authorities have been trying to evacuate her. She says they have not received compensation or a job for her son Bal Kumar (26) as promised by Jindal.

VII. December 13, 2013 in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh: Sudhu Ram Bhagat (Age 70), a farmer from Madorma village in Dharmajaigarh, lost his acres of crops in the last year because of the elephants attack and got no compensation from the government (as stated by Sudhu Ram).

VIII. Bodhram Chauhan (80) and Srimti Saniro Chauhan (65) lost their son Jagan Singh Chauhan (30) recently in a wild elephant attack in Krondha village of Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh. “On April 4 2015, Jagan was returning after work from a nearby village at night when the incident took place.

That day we awaited him the whole night and found his dead body in the morning,” mourned Bodhram. 75 deaths of people have been recorded in the last ten years in Dharamjaigarh area. According to the inhabitants of Dharamjaigarh, the human-elephant conflict and the changes in the climate in forms of air, soil and water pollution will increase more in near future due to rampant coal mining in Chhattisgarh.

IX. Tuskers mostly migrating from adjoining Odisha and Jharkhand forests have learnt to barge into villages and maul people very often. This is a photo of a wild elephant at a paddy field just outside the forest at Silingpara village in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh.  Following rampant deforestation and loss of their habitats in Odisha and Jharkhand, elephants began migrating to the forests of Chhattisgarh in the ’80s.

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. As per official records, the resulting human-elephant conflict has caused 8,657 incidents of property damage and 99,152 incidents of crop damage in the state between 2005 and 2014. Elephant death due to electrocution is almost a common incident here in the many regions of Raigarh district in Chhattisgarh. The state has also recorded more than 200 human deaths caused by the conflict during these years in which Dharamjaigarh, the most affected area has seen 30 elephant deaths and 75 human deaths so far.

X. December 13, 2013 in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh: Gouri Mondal is a former inhabitant of Baisi colony in Dharamjaigarh. She and her family had to leave their residence six months ago while herds of elephants damaged their house in a sudden attack in night. She stated that now she and her family have taken shelter at another villager’s house. Only Rs.7,000/- as compensation has reached them from the government.

XI. December 13, 2013 in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh: Wife of Hirasai Chauhan, who died in an elephant attack in Krondha village in Dharamjaigarh. Villagers in Dharamjaigarh have to live in panic as dozens of people have been killed by wild elephants in recent years in the region.

XII. Monoranjan Roy (65) at his previous house at Merarmath colony village in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh. A herd of wild elephants broke into his home almost two years ago where he used to live with his family, three brothers and their families together.

His left shoulder was also broken during this incident but he is yet to receive compensation for the damage and had to relocate to different places many times. Nowadays people live here in panic that further diversion of land and forests in these areas for coal mining purposes could lead to an increase in human-elephant conflict.

XIII. Radhi Burman (20), son of Joshi Burman, a farmer in the village Baisi colony in Dharamjaigarh said that almost their entire crop was damaged by wild elephants in the recent past. He was attacked by the elephants while trying to save their crops and electrocuted accidentally.

He was hospitalised by the local people and recovered after fighting for many days in the ICU. As the rate of coal mines engulfing the forest area day by day in Chhattisgarh increases, elephants suffer from a shortage in food. As a result, the sudden entry of herds of elephants to the village areas in search of food becomes a regular matter.

XIV. Biswajit Mondal (54) at his home at Santoshnagar, Dharamjaigarh. In April 2015, a herd of wild elephants broke into their room while he was asleep with his family of six. “One of the elephants caught me by its trunk and threw me with tremendous force into a corner of the room.

I was promptly rescued by a neighbour while the elephant was approaching to trample me,” said Biswajit, who was later given a compensation of Rs. 12,000. He had managed to repair his home but the money was not enough for the treatment of his severely injured waist and both legs. “Now I can neither sit nor walk properly. It is even more painful when I try to sleep as I can’t lie down for long periods. There is no earning member in the family right now and we may all die of hunger soon.”

XV. Women in Tendumar village in Dharamjaigarh are busy discussing the recent damages caused by the wild elephants. According to them, they live in panic as no help is provided, nor any major steps taken till now to solve the human-elephant conflict.

XVI. December 16, 2013 in Dharamjaigarh, Chhattisgarh : Ramela Bairagi (65) who lost her son Jagdish Bairagi (40) in a sudden elephant attack on January 17, 2011 at their residence in Madorma Village, Dharamjaigarh. The whole family left their residence in panic and started to live in another place. Now she has only one small picture of her beloved son as a memory.

XVII. Gebra, an open cast coal mining in Korba, Chhattisgarh. At present, it is India’s largest coal mine with a total production capacity of 35 million tonnes per annum. Gevra mining block has an area of about 19.03 is located in the central part of Korba field. These landscapes are a very common sight in this region due to rampant open-cast coal mining.

XVIII. December 14, 2013 in Korba, Chhattisgarh: Gebra open cast coal mining in Korba, Chhattisgarh. At present, it is India’s largest coal mine with a total production capacity of 35 million tonnes per annum.

XIX. Harishchandra Bhagat (65) of Sarasmal village in Tamnar, Chhattisgarh has been suffering from silicosis for the last four years. He lost two acres of agricultural land to a Jindal coal mine in 2008 and now lives with his family of four at the edge of an open-cast coal mine. “We had a happy life and I used to earn enough to feed my family but nowadays I can’t breathe well and even the smallest of tasks take a lot of effort. I just lie on my bed for most of the day and await death,” he mourned at his home, just beside a Jindal open-cast coal mine.

XX. People living just beside thermal power plants are a common view in Korba, the power hub of Chhattisgarh. According to local environment activists, every year approximately five crore tonnes of fly ash is generated by the power plants in Chhattisgarh but not even half this amount has been reutilised to reduce the pollution from fly ash. One of the locals described their plight thus: “The ash is everywhere. When the wind blows, everything is coated with a layer of white-grey ash. The road, ponds, our houses, sometimes even our spectacles get coated with a fine layer of the ash.” In view of the serious impact on their health and agriculture, the people have been protesting continually against the problem. Indeed, fly ash has become a plague for local populations and a headache for the operators of coal-based thermal power plants.

XXI. Rohit Rathia (55), suffering from tuberculosis for five years, and his wife Manki Rathia (50), have been spending their days at a home just beside a Jindal open-cast coal mine at Sarasmal village in Tamnar, Chhattisgarh. Twenty acres of their farm had been acquired for the mine but they received only a handful of the amount as compensation from the authorities. He is unsure if he will able to continue his bi-weekly medical check-up owing to his bad financial condition.

Villagers here say one may find at least two patients in every ten families severely suffering from lung diseases such as Coal Workers’ Pneumoconiosis (CWP), Silicosis and Tuberculosis. “Ten years ago, the situation was not like that but now there are 63 widows among the 150 families in this village,” says Kanhai Patel, a resident of Sarasmal.

XXII. Live electricity wires are everywhere in the farming fields used for the purpose of cultivation. Many times these threaten the lives of wild elephants that roam in the crop fields in search of food.

XXIII. An electrocuted elephant in Ongna village in Dharamjaigarh. It came into contact with a live wire in a farming field at night and is the 23rd wild elephant death at Dharamjaigarh in the last six years.

All photographs and captions courtesy Subrata Biswas

Some photos copyright Subrata Biswas/Greenpeace

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