Let me take anticipatory bail by submitting that I am not an expert on forests or wildlife. I am writing this based only on the limited knowledge I have, which a lot of people seem to lack. So, if there is any mistake here, I request readers to correct me.
The report of a pregnant elephant killed when trying to eat a pineapple fileld with crackers has the whole country lamenting its death and looking for the culprit. Even a Union minister thought it fit to comment on it and gave a communal colour to it while naming the wrong place where it happened. Ratan Tata also expressed his grief. The Chief Minister announced that action will be taken against the responsible people. Wonder why so much interest in the case that even the plight of thousands of workers walking thousands of kilometres to reach home did not evoke? I think there are two reasons: one, many people, especially politicians from other states have been on the lookout for an issue to blame the people and government of Kerala;, two, elephant is an animal that carries “gods” during temple festivals, although the torture it suffers in the process is masked by glorifying it. And, maybe, three, a lot of people are really fond of this gentle giant.
All that is understandable. But people seem to believe and media seem to confirm that punishing the offender in this case will solve the problem of man-animal conflict in the country. Clearly, this is not the first time an animal is being unnecessarily killed by humans and this is not going to be the last, do what the government may. In order to understand the origin of the man-animal conflict, one has to go back several decades in history. There was a time after the second world war when there was serious food scarcity in Kerala and India as a whole, when the government encouraged people to go into the forests, clear the trees and start cultivating food crops. This naturally caused people to invade the lands that belonged to animals, part of which was already lost to plantations, dams, roads and such, apart from large scale deforestation. In short, animals lost part their territory to humans. This is not very different from India losing part of its territory to China or Pakistan. What do Indians do when that happens? Of course, everybody know, and wants Indians to recover it. That is all the animals also did, but humans being more technically empowered and more selfish, they succeeded in driving the animals back or killing them when they couldn’t drive them away. This, of course, didn’t solve the problem and animals continue to invade their lands now occupied by humans and this naturally causes conflict. Humans have tried various ways to prevent the entry of animals into the lands they occupy now, but no technique has been very successful in that.
So, what is the solution? The solution generally heard among experts and activists is for humans to leave some area around forests for animals to wander when they feel like. In short, people have to move away from lands close to forests. As they moved into forests in the first place because the government asked them to, isn’t it natural for the government to encourage them to come back to midland regions where there are no frorests? That raises the question, will they leave the place they have lived for a long time and come back? No, not voluntarily. So, what can the government do? The government can offer incentives to leave the land near forests and disintives to stay there. This is no big problem, as there are many instances where such positive and negative incentives have been used, and will again be used, to get people to do what the government wants. So, do that!
Yes, as per law, one is not supposed to use crackers against wild animals. So, the people who did that will be punished and rightly so. But will that be the end of such problems? If punishment could end crime, this country should now be free of all crime and be like the land of King Mahabali, where nobody tells lies, nobody cheats, no wrong weights, why no rape, no murder, and the police would have no job! So, we may punish the people responsible for the sad death of the elephant (actually, a feel-good thing more than anything else), but that won’t solve the problem. Another year, another elephant, maybe a tiger or some other animal would be killed and again we will punish someone, and things can go on like that if that is what everybody would like. But that certainly is not what I would prefer.