A Jest that dimmed the light on Nagaland's Human-Elephant Conflict

Imlisanen Jamir

In the ongoing Nagaland Legislative Assembly, an offhand comment by the Nagaland Minister for Forest, Environment, and Climate Change recently ignited a blaze of controversy. The Minister, while addressing the issue of the human-animal conflict, quipped that "humans are winning" in the ongoing battle, citing the relatively low number of human casualties in Wokha district compared to elephant fatalities caused by humans.

This seemingly tongue-in-cheek remark, captured on video and rapidly disseminated across social media, not only displayed a stunning lapse in judgment but also raised a troubling question about the seriousness with which our leaders approach profound and pressing issues like the human-elephant conflict. In the heartlands of Nagaland, this conflict has been a persistent blight on the lives of those who reside in its shadow, demanding a thoughtful, compassionate, and coordinated response.

The Minister's comment, however ill-conceived, inadvertently eclipsed the substantial measures he had outlined during the Assembly session to address this issue. Among these measures were short-term initiatives, including support for alternative livelihood activities, capacity building, training villagers in elephant-repelling techniques, and providing compensation for damages and ex gratia payments in cases of human casualties.

Furthermore, a promising study sponsored by the German bank Kreditanstalt fur Wiederaufbau (KfW) in collaboration with the Wildlife Institute of India seeks to investigate elephant movements in the region and formulate a long-term plan. Notably, the government's decision to recognize damage by wildlife as a disaster under the State Disaster Management Act is a significant step forward, ensuring that those affected by wildlife-related losses receive due compensation.

Nevertheless, it is essential to acknowledge the hurdles faced in implementing some of these measures, such as the use of immuno-contraceptives, which is currently under a stay order from the Supreme Court. Persistent efforts to lift this stay are underway, recognizing the potential of this method to effectively manage elephant populations in Nagaland's challenging terrain.

The creation of Community Reserves and the pursuit of central funding for the revival and management of elephant corridors with neighboring Assam demonstrate the government's commitment to resolving this issue. Additionally, the development of a National Elephant Management Plan, drawing from expert insights, holds the promise of enhancing conflict management strategies.

However, the comments made by the minister in the Assembly chamber cast a long and regrettable shadow over these commendable efforts. What was even more disheartening was the reaction from the Chief Minister and some fellow legislators who were heard laughing in response to the minister's remarks. This display of insensitivity not only undermined the gravity of the issue but also questioned the empathy and seriousness of those leading the state.

In a time where leadership should exemplify compassion and responsibility, humor should never come at the expense of humanity. Eliciting laughs through crude remarks in the midst of a grave human-elephant conflict is not just regrettable but also reprehensible. Public officials must remember that their words and actions carry immense weight, shaping the perception of both the issue and the competence of the state's leadership.

Comments can be sent to imlisanenjamir@gmail.com