Vengamaripalle of Baireddipalle mandal at the tri-State T.N.-A.P.-Karnataka elephant corridor has become a care of address for wild elephants during the last five years, virtually turning several hapless farmers into migrant workers, who are unable to cope with the jumbo problem, losing their crops each year.
The village surrounded by the forests of Koundinya wildlife sanctuary has about 200 families, mostly depending on vegetable farming and agriculture labour. Though the problem of crop raiding elephants is common to the tri-State junction, Vengamaripalle has assumed notoriety as the ‘favourite haunt’ of the wild elephants since six months. Since June 30, as many as three different herds, each numbering 2, 7 and 13, had played havoc with the fields here for more than a dozen times till July 14. The frequency of the wild elephants striking their crops has made the farmers abandon their fields and rush to the officials of the Forest and Agriculture departments, demanding protection and compensation.
With fodder and water crisis, gripping the Koundinya sanctuary since March this year, the incidence of wild elephants straying into agriculture lands in Kuppam, Palamaner and Punganur forest ranges kept growing. The intensity of the water problem is such that a three-member herd had altogether abandoned the sanctuary a month ago and strayed into Madanapalle range, 50 km away, and made a retreat only a few days ago, after destroying crops elsewhere in the western villages.
Farmers of Vengamaripalle deplore that during the last three years, they had not been provided with any compensation for the crop losses. “When we approach the forest officials, we are told to take photographs of the damaged crops and take them to the Agriculture Department officials, who in turn direct us back to the Forest Department. Three years had gone by this way,” the farmers said.
The oppressive summer heat this year had made the wild elephants target Vengamaripalle along the corridor. Several small landholdings with standing crops of tomato and cabbage were damaged since three months. To make things worse, the elephants had trampled the drip irrigation equipment.
Vasaraiah Gowd, a farmer, had harvested the tomato crop on Friday last, and the loaded boxes were ready for transport the next day. In the early hours, a 13-member herd of elephants had struck the stocks, devouring the tomatoes and trampling the boxes. “My entire sweat and labour was gone. I don’t know whom should I approach for help this time,” he said.
Rajagopal, another farmer, deplored that his cabbage crop was finished in the tuskers’ raid since a week. “We are telling the truth. In 15 days, the elephants had raided our fields a dozen times. All our night vigils would be of no avail with the ferocious and hungry beasts at night,” he said.
The farmers maintained that the long-term impact of the crop raiders has turned several small farmers into migrant workers at neighbouring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The youth were unwilling to venture into the fields, thinking that they could better switch to earn something for the families in neighbouring States.
Divisional Forest Officer (Chittoor) G. Srinivasulu told The Hindu that it was true that the elephants were frequently raiding crops at Vengamaripalle. “Three herds are moving along the inter-State corridor close to this village. We will inspect the stretch and take proper steps to put an end to the menace. We will also look into the aspect of compensation to the farmers who had lost their crops,” he said.