Tension is brewing in 10 villages in Lahiripur area of the Sunderbans in West Bengal following an increasing number of close encounters with tigers and the alleged inaction by the forest authorities. Says Khagen Mondal, the sarpanch of one of the affected villages, "You cannot find a single household in the area where someone has not fallen a victim to the tigers."
Matters came to a head when villagers killed and mutilated a tiger in Ayanpur village on December 6. Project Tiger staff fled the area and a forest guard at the nearest Project Tiger office in Sajnekhali said, "We will not return till we are given an assurance of not suffering the same fate as the tiger."
State forest minister Achintya Roy called a meeting of the state's top forest officials on December 21 to discuss measures to protect the villagers from the tigers. Admitting that there was a huge communication gap between Project Tiger staff and the villagers, Roy agreed to shift the office of field director closer to the fringes of the forest.
Meanwhile, although the state forest department has announced plans to post personnel with tranquilliser guns and cages who can take prompt action to deport tigers straying in the area, Project Tiger employees are "boycotting" the villages till tempers cool down.