Six persons, including a 10-year-old girl, were trampled to death by elephants in one block of Chhattisgarh’s Dhamtari district in the past two days.
The ground staff of the state forest department has been on strike for weeks even as the state recorded over 500 forest fires between February 15 and March 31.
Ten-year-old Simran Singh of Tumbahar village had gone to the forest early on Sunday morning with her father Shekhar Sahu to collect Mahua flowers when the duo came face to face with elephants. As they started to run, Simran fell and was immediately trampled by the elephant, her father later recounted.
On Sunday, a 38-year-old woman from Sambalpur village was also attacked by elephants. On Saturday, three deaths were reported from villages Paikbhath, Panwdwar and Birnasilli in the same block. On early Saturday morning, officials found the body of 22-year-old Sukhbai, who was sleeping in a hutment on her parents’ field and 46-year-old Budhram from Panwdwar village.
Bhumika Markam, 36, was trampled by tuskers after she fell while eight of her friends managed to escape in Paikbhath village on Saturday afternoon. Later in the day, a 35-year-old woman in Amjhar village was reported dead after an elephant attack.
The six villages are located in and around the Udanti-Sitanadi tiger reserve, officials confirmed. “…Accidents are happening as people are going into the forest despite awareness campaigns being run,” a senior forest official said.
Under the banner of Chhattisgarh Forest Employee unions, thousands of employees are on strike since March. Their 12 demands include regularisation, filling up of vacant posts and raising the pay scale after issuance of the pay scale promised in 2003.
” …We work at a meagre salary, with several employees getting no uniform despite working outdoors in adverse weather…,” said a senior member of the union, requesting anonymity.
The forest department, however, is in no mood to listen to them. “Forest ground staff strike has made the task of fire fighting difficult but range officers, sub-divisional officers and divisional forest officers have been actively doing the firefighting work with the help of villagers and fire watchers,” a statement from the state forest department read.