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Recurring man-animal conflict surfaced as a major issue in ongoing Panchayat poll campaigns in villages lying on the close proximity of Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary in Kendrapara district.
While 'bijli-sadak-pani' are common demands in most parts of the state, people in specific pockets of coastal Kendrapara are asking whether there would be an end to their plight.
The candidates contesting right from ward member's post to that of member of zilla parishad now are facing queries from people living on fringes of wildlife-inhabited forest and crocodile-infested water-bodies.
"It seems human lives are less precious than animals. While crocodiles are unleashing terror in water-bodies and creeks, wild boar are on the rampage launching murderous attack on people. Forest officials are intent on safeguarding the safety of animals. But they never care for humans", rued Pradeep Das of Iswarpur in Rajnagar Tehsil, going to polls.
He was echoed by many others who claimed that frequent intrusions of wild animals into places of human habitation have made life miserable in forest-side villages.
"Each of the water-bodies here is crocodile-infested. Venturing into river to take bath is like risking one's life. Last year, crocodiles claimed three persons from our area", said Radhakant Sahu, a native of Dimiripala village under Aul block.
"People have stopped fishing due to croc menace. Inland fishing is a major occupation for fishermen. Forest department doles out ex-gratia for death (Rs 2 lakh) or injury (Rs 10,000) in croc attack. The loss is permanent. The paltry compensation is cruel joke on us," a local of Deulsahi village, Rabindra Behera said.
Three persons were killed in attack by animals like
wild boar, in recent past. Farmers near forest areas are bearing the brunt of animals' intrusion as their crops are often raided by wild boar.
Compensation paid to the affected farmers by forest department is meagre as the measly amount ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000 hardly makes up the crop loss, said a local of Babbar village, Hemant Manna.
"We are being bombarded with queries from voters. We are committing them to take up the matter in all seriousness with forest personnel", said Zilla Parishad Zone (32) contestant, Srinath Sethy.
The forest department has initiated a series of measures to save human and domesticated animals' lives from preying crocs.
Around 50 riverside spots were identified as danger zones marked by frequent sighting of reptiles. Warning has been issued to people to avoid these troubled zones. The bathing ghats which are vulnerable due to croc intrusion have been barricaded, said Divisional Forest Officer, Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division, Bimal Prasanna Acharya.
Service groups have also been engaged to drive away crocs from places of human habitation. Galvanised steel solar-charged barricades are erected in forest-side villages to curb straying by wild boars, he said.