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Voters grill candidates over tuskers, human trafficking

National,Politics, Wed, 19 Nov 2008 IANS

Raipur, Nov 19 (IANS) Politicians campaigning for assembly elections in Chhattisgarh's forested interiors ran into angry voters demanding action against human trafficking and marauding wild elephants.


The mainly poor voters in Surguja, Jashpur, Koria, Raigarh and Korba districts made it clear that they would vote in Thursday's election only if they were assured that those smuggling poor girls from the area were hauled up and punished.



And the villagers also wanted speedy steps to prevent wild elephants from destroying their homes and farms.



People of these five districts, which are heavily forested, are worst hit by the elephants that have killed dozens of people during the past five years.



The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has paid millions of rupees as compensation since 2004 to families that have suffered deaths or lost their crops to elephants.



These five districts are also notorious for human trafficking. According to villagers, local agents take away minors and girls promising them jobs in metros. Instead, they are forced into prostitution.



'People have repeatedly asked me what will I do to contain human trafficking and prevent attacks by elephants,' Ganesh Ram Bhagat, a senior tribal leader and cabinet minister contesting from Sitapur seat in Surguja district, told IANS.



'Their concerns are genuine and I am distributing copies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto to convince them that we are serious on both the issues,' he stated.



'The BJP has stated in the manifesto that an elephant reserve area development scheme will be implemented to save the tribals from elephant attacks,' BJP candidate Ramsevak Paikra, contesting from Pratappur seat -- the worst hit by the menace -- in Surguja district, told IANS.



Asked about human trafficking, he said the party was committed to reducing migration of people from the state. 'Once migration stops, human trafficking will be contained,' he said.



His rival from Congress, Premsai Singh, said: 'The BJP has done nothing about the elephant attacks except paying meagre compensation to the tribals.'



He said human trafficking is another important issue here. 'There are a number of cases of girls returning to the villages with memories of sexual trauma.'



Singh, a former minister, remarked: 'If the BJP had wished, it would have addressed these issues during its five-year rule. The party has just routinely mentioned it in the manifesto.'



Sitapur's Congress candidate Amarjeet Bhagat, who is a sitting legislator, said: 'I led a movement on the issue of human trafficking and raised it in the state assembly, but the problem is getting bigger.'



Chhattisgarh's 51 constituencies out of the total 90 go to polls Thursday Nov 20. Polling for the rest 39 seats was held Nov 14.



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