Rampant deforestation and loss of habitat in Odisha and Jharkhand forced elephants to migrate to the forests of Chhattishgarh in the 1980s. In Raigarh, Korba, Jashpur and Surguja districts, where a lot of forest land is being diverted for coal mining, foraging elephants often enter villages, attracted by the crops in the fields. Official records say the resulting human-elephant conflict has caused 8,657 incidents of property damage and 99,152 incidents of crop damage between 2005 and 2014. Chhattishgarh has also recorded more than 200 deaths caused by the conflict.

A densely forested state with moe than 40 tribal communities, the state is has an estimated 50 billion tonnes of coal reserves, among the largest in India. As mining companies increasingly go for open-cast mining for economic benefit, villagers are the worst hit as they lose land and mining companies often don't honour their promises of rehabilitation and compensation. The natural landscape of Korba has changed rapidly every year after the first open-cast mine began operating.

In 2005, hoping to minimise human-elephant conflict, the Chhattishgarh assembly passed a resolution seeking central approval for two elephant reserves. One of them was the 450 sq. km Lemru reserve in Korba district, which received a clearance from the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 2007, but was shelved by the state government in 2008 to facilitate coal mining in virgin forest.

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Vast areas of virgin forest are under threat from rampant coal mining in the near future.

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Decreasing forest cover also means less to eat in the jungle, so the elephants raid villages for fodder and attack anyone who crosses their path.

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“We were sleeping when the elephants broke in. Somehow we escaped but my left leg was broken when part of the wall fell on it.  My husband Hetuaram Khalkho (75) saved my life,” recalls Rujri Khalkho (70) at her home in Fitting Para village of Dharamjaigarh. The compensation of `10,000 was not enough for home repair and medical treatment.

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In coal-rich Chhattishgarh, Korba alone has 13 large mines, including India’s largest opencast mine at Gevra, with a capacity of about 94 million tonnes per annum. Thousands of people have lost their land and farms and pollution levels have shot up. Korba was ranked third among the most critically polluted areas in the country in 2014-15.

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A wild elephant at a paddy field outside the forest at Silingpara village in Dharamjaigarh.  Foraging elephants often enter villages, attracted by standing crop in the fields.
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Biswajit Mondal (54) at his home at Santoshnagar, Dharamjaigarh. In April 2015, a wild elephants broke into their home while he was asleep with his family of six. “One of the elephants caught me by the trunk and threw me to a corner of the room. I was rescued by a neighbour as the elephant was advancing on me,” said Biswajit, who got ₹12,000 as compensation. He could not afford treatment for his injuries. “Now I can neither sit nor walk properly. There is no earning member in the family and we may die of hunger soon.”

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Bodhram Chauhan (80) (L) and Srimti Saniro Chauhan (65) (R) lost their son Jagan (30) to an elephant attack in Krondha village. “On April 4, 2015, Jagan was returning after work from a nearby village at night when the incident took place. We found his body in the morning.” Human-elephant conflict and environmental pollution is likely to increase in the area. 
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Monoranjan Roy (65) at his old house in Merarmath colony village. A herd of elephants broke into his home almost two years ago where he used to live with his family, three brothers and their families. He had to relocate to different places many times.

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Rohit Rathia (55), suffering from tuberculosis for five years and his wife Manki Rathia (50), live next to an open-cast coal mine at Sarasmal village in Tamnar. Twenty acres of their land was acquired for the mine but they received only a handful as compensation. He is unsure if he can continue his bi-weekly medical check-ups because he can’t afford it. 

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Elephant death due to electrocution is now a common sight in Chhattisgarh. Since 2007, Dharamjaigarh has recorded 30, as well as 75 human deaths.