Jumbo fear stalks some Meghalaya polling booths

April 15th, 2009 - 10:42 am ICT by IANS  

By Sujit Chakraborty
Agartala, April 15 (IANS) Poll authorities in Meghalaya are facing a strange problem - possible attacks by wild elephants during polling day.

Over 200 polling booths in the Garo hills region of Meghalaya have been categorised as ’sensitive’. Not because of any militant threat, but for fear of attack by rampaging wild elephants!

Forest officials in Tripura are on alert to prevent any likely raids by the pachyderms on polling day in Meghalaya, April 16.

However, in Arunachal Pradesh and Assam, which also go to the polls Thursday, jumbos will be used for carrying polling material and officials to remote, inaccessible areas.

Apart from Garo hills, which are along the India-Bangladesh border, some of the polling stations in Meghalya are situated in the districts of West Khasi hills and Ri Bhoi, which are close to forests in adjacent Assam, from where the elephants often come out.

Meghalaya Chief Electoral Officer P. Naik told newsmen in Shillong: “After the previous polls were disturbed by elephant attacks, the election authorities are not taking any chances this time. Forest guards have been asked to keep a close watch during the April 16 polling.”

“Returning officers have been asked to finalise their strategies to deal with the unusual problem. Crackers and self-defence weapons may be provided to the polling officials posted in these areas,” the poll official said.

A senior forest official said that forest guards along with trained elephants of the wildlife wing and their trainers would be present accompanied by local tribesmen with drums and cymbals to drive away wild elephants.

In Amarpur in southern Tripura, Teliamura and Atharamura hill ranges in western Tripura wild elephants in herds often come down to the plains in search of food and local brew and also destroy standing crops and homes.

In contrast, in Arunachal Pradesh, polling authorities have engaged 20 elephants for ferrying poll officials to the remote polling stations.

The jumbos will be pressed into service in some pockets of Lohit, Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh in case of inclement weather.

“Like the 2004 parliamentary polls, this time also the commission has made arrangements to despatch poll materials along with officials to the low lying areas of Chwkham, Namsai, Tezu of Lohit district, Bordumsa, Diyun area of Changlang district and Kanubari, Khonsa of Tirap district through elephants,” a senior poll official said.

He told IANS from Itanagar : “At least 20 jumbos are kept ready for carrying the poll officials and materials to the remote polling stations.”

Bordering China and Bhutan, Arunachal West and Arunachal East are the fourth and fifth largest parliamentary constituencies in India with the areas of 40,572.29 sq km and 39,749.64 sq km.

Elephants will also be used for carrying poll material and officials in southern Assam, which is also going to the polls April 16.

“We will engage six elephants to carry poll officials and election materials, including the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), to five remote villages of Highlakandi district under the Karimganj parliamentary constituency,” said Highlakandi district magistrate Tapan Chandra Goswamy.

He told newsmen: “There is no motorable roads in the five inaccessible villages.”

Tripura Forest Minister Jitendra Chowdhury told IANS: “We are planning to create a Critical Habitat Area for the elephants and a few other endangered wild animals in southern and northern Tripura. The latest census has shown that the elephant population has gone up from 38 in 2002 to 59 now.”

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

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