How to kill 7 elephants: You just need electric wire and a callous administration. Look at Dhenkanal, Odisha

The national heritage animal deserves more than the callousness being meted out.

 |  6-minute read |   29-10-2018
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Imagine going out with your family of seven, including a young boy, a nursing mother with her less than one-year-old baby and four other women for dinner. Before you find the restaurant, your family collides with a high-tension wire that was not supposed to be there in the first place.

Before you know it, they are all electrocuted.

Dead.

Just like that.

7-elephants-dead-mai_102918041555.jpgThe carcasses of elephants which died of electrocution after coming in contact with a sagging live wire near Kamalanga village in Dhenkanal district of Odisha on Saturday | Photo: PTI

The fate of the seven elephants from the herd of 13 that were out foraging for food in Odisha’s Dhenkanal district Friday night was no different. According to Sudarshan Patra, Divisional Forest Officer, Dhenkanal, a herd of 13 elephants entered Kamalanga village under Dhenkanal Sadar forest range on Friday night while looking for food.

Of the 13, one sub-adult tusker, a mother and its less than a-year-old calf, and four females came in contact with the 11KV laid by the railway department for track construction work.

They died on the spot.

This is the highest casualty of elephants in a single incident in Odisha.

It is not an isolated incident.

A highly placed source in the Odisha Forest department has confirmed that 109 elephants have died of electrocution in Odisha alone over the last nine years (since 2009). That is 12 elephants a year — or, one elephant every month. Compare this to the national average of 655 deaths in the last nine years. This translates into an average of about seven deaths every month and one death in every four days. The census data also says the main causes of these deaths were electrocution, train accidents, poaching and poisoning — touching 500 deaths of the 655, which is nearly 77 percent.

In 2012 December, six elephants were crushed under a speeding express train in Rambha, Ganjam district. In April 2018, four elephants, including a tusker and a calf, were killed in another speeding train accident in Jharsuguda district.

As recently as on September 5, two elephants died of electrocution in Badapokhari village under Dalijoda forest range in Jajpur district and on September 19, another bull elephant was electrocuted at Uparjhara village in Bolangir district.

The press release issued now after the tragedy on Friday by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) goes on a blame-game, passing the buck from the Forest Department to Central Electricity Supply Utility of Odisha (CESU). If the forest department’s claims are to be believed, Dhenkanal DFO had written repeatedly to the Central Electricity Supply Utility of Odisha (CESU) last year to rectify the sagging 11 KV lines in the region — but no action was taken in this regard.

“There are 200 places in Dhenakanal district and 60 in Joranda itself where high voltage electric wires are sagging at a low height and left unattended. Despite repeated letters to CESU by the forest department and stakeholders, nothing tangible has been done till date,” says environmentalist and wildlife conservationist, Dr Biswajit Mohanty.

However, locals blame it on the lack of coordination between the two departments.

“Seven precious lives of elephants were lost due to lack of coordination between forest and electricity department. Elephants have a major role to play in our environment and are as important as humans are,” said Bulu Behera, a resident of Kamalanga told the local media.

In what could be construed as a hasty measure to be seen doing something, CESU suspended an SDO, a superintending engineer and terminated from service a junior engineer. A range officer, ranger and a forest guard of Dhenkanal forest division were also suspended by the forest department for dereliction of duties.

However, what is that worth if the wires are still hanging loose and live?  

When contacted, secretary to Odisha’s Energy department, Hemant Sharma said that an enquiry is being conducted and action will be taken. “Consumer supply was not given to that area where the incident occurred. The connection was only meant for providing temporary feeder for railway construction site. An enquiry team has been set up which will take stock of the situation and action will be taken as per the probe report,” he said.

As per the Indian Electricity Rules, 1956, 11 KV lines should be laid above the height of 5.5-feet. The wires that killed the elephants were below the prescribed height and CESU is yet to give an explanation in this regard. A junior official with the forest department has confirmed to DailyO that the electric supply remained switched on even after the mishap and was still on till Saturday noon despite instructions that power supply should be shut down.

Well, it made no difference to the lost lives, that included an infant barely a year old, whether the power supply was for “consumer or for providing temporary feeder for railway construction site."

We have the blood of the gentle giants on our hands and no way of getting anywhere closer to unveiling what caused their deaths. The question is now glaring at the faces of the officials: Are the deaths caused by sheer callousness — or is this turning a blind eye to pave the way for something more sinister?

Also read: World Elephant Day 2018: Why saving elephants is as important as saving tigers

Writer

Rajeshwari Ganesan Rajeshwari Ganesan @rajeshwaridotg

The author writes on wildlife, environment, gender issues, science, health, books and a host of other topics. A professional journalist and a passionate environmentalist. Former Assistant Editor, DailyO.

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