Bhubaneswar:The Wildlife Society of Orissa (WSO) Friday batted for a mechanism to monitor elephant deaths in the state and measures to protect the gentle beasts.
At a press conference held at Buddha Mandir premises here to underline the serious nature of ever increasing elephant deaths in the state, particularly in the matter of multiple cases of deaths due to electrocution, WSO Secretary Biswajit Mohanty urged the Forest and Environment Minister to monitor elephant protection on a monthly basis and fix responsibility on field officials.
He said, “Odisha was once known for its magnificent elephants. Many kings, including those of Mughal era, had invaded it for its prized war elephants. Due to loss of habitat, relentless conflict with humans and a host of unnatural reasons, Odisha has now turned into a graveyard of elephants. Among the many unnatural causes of elephant deaths, electrocution is one of the top two.”
Poaching, train and road accidents and falling into open wells are other causes, said Mohanty, adding, “We have been urging the government for last two years to take adequate step to stop electrocution death of elephants.”
Ranjit Patnak said, “Angul district has emerged as a hotspot for electrocution with death of five elephants since September 2017. Two were killed in last 10 days alone by electrocution and one decomposed body was found without any known cause inside Satkosia Tiger Reserve.”
The state has lost 167 elephants to electrocution since 2000. Between 2000 and 2010, there were 77 electrocution deaths, mostly due to sagging power lines, averaging less than eight elephants in a year. During this period the government had not taken any preventive steps to control electrocutions.
From 2010 onwards, despite some preventive steps taken by the government, including allocation of adequate funds for strengthening of power lines, the electrocution death rates have not come down.
Media convenor of WSO Anil Dhir said, “The state has lost 90 elephants to electrocution, averaging nearly 11 elephants a year from April 1, 2010 to August 21, 2018.”
Live wire poaching traps, sagging overhead lines and electrified fences are the reasons for electrocution of elephants in the state, he stated. Statistics reveals that 63 per cent of the electrocution deaths are now due to live wire poaching. Before 2010, majority of the unnatural elephant deaths– about 80 per cent– were due to sagging power lines. Since 2010, out of 90 electrocution deaths, 33 were due to sagging lines and 57 due to live wire poaching. These figures reveal absence of patrolling.
Nearly 15 per cent of the total elephant deaths is due to electrocution and among all the unnatural causes of elephant deaths, 41 per cent is due to electrocution. This is due to the non-adherence to the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) norms and Indian Electricity Rules 1956 by the discoms.
The discoms violate CEA guidelines for laying and maintenance of 11/33 KV transmission/distribution lines in areas critical for wildlife. Clearly, there is a violation of Rule 77 which provides minimum ground clearance for conductor at various places like across streets, along streets and other places at a minimum of 4.6 metres. Periodical testing of all apparatus, cables and supply lines is also lacking. Also, there is neither Earth Leakage Circuit Breaker (ELCBs) to disconnect the supply instantly on occurrence of earth fault nor safety fuse or isolated lines.
This was an important recommendation of the four-member expert MoeFCC Committee in 2010. RTI information about inspection of power lines from 1stApril 2011 to 15thDecember 2016 (nearly six years) obtained on February 4, 2017 revealed no inspections.
The Forest Department too is lacking in the monitoring and prevention of elephant electrocution. Sagging lines are not detected and reported to the Distcoms and not followed up till they are rectified even if they are reported.
There is no local reward system to prevent any hooking up for live wire poaching. Not a single Distcom official has been convicted and jailed under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 despite death of more than 100 elephants caused by sagging overhead lines.
There is a need to set up reinforced electric poles fitted with spikes to prevent elephants rubbing against them and lifting of sagging overhead power lines. The overhead wires across all elephant habitats and movement zones should be insulated and defunct solar powered fences removed.