Bhubaneswar: A whopping 119 elephants have died of electrocution in Odisha in the last ten years.
This boils down to approximately 12 (11.9) jumbos on an average getting electrocuted in the State every year.
The startling fact was revealed in the Odisha Assembly by Forest and Environment Minister Bikram Keshari Arukha in his written reply to a question by Biju Janata Dal (BJD) member Badri Narayan Patra.
Patra had sought to know from the Minister about the number of elephants that have died in the State after coming in contact with live electric wire and how many of these deaths were reported from Keonjhar district.
“Since 2009-10 to 2019-20 by October, a total of 119 elephants have died in the State due to electrocution, out of this a total of 11 elephants have died in Keonjhar district,” informed Arukha in his reply.
Patra had also enquired from the Minister on how many have been held responsible for these deaths and what action has been taken against them.
“For these deaths, 133 general public, 11 Forest department officials, and 4 Energy department employees have been held responsible and action has been taken against them,” the Minister clarified.
Arukha in his reply has further listed out 18 major steps taken by the department to arrest these unnatural deaths.
1. Regular coordination meetings are being organized between Energy Department and Power Distribution Utilities (Discoms) and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife), Regional Chief Conservator of Forests and Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) levels to take appropriate steps to arrest elephant deaths due to electrocution.
2. Forest department and Energy department officials are jointly patrolling elephant corridors to check and take immediate remedial measures against power theft by hooking, sagging live wires, weak electric poles, maintenance of proper height of power transmission conductors, proper functioning of circuit breakers and live wire trap.
3. Steps are being taken to take overhead transmission lines of 220 KV (LT)/11 KV and 33 KV at a height of 5.5 meters and 8 meters respectively as per provisions of the Indian Electricity Regulatory Act 1959.
4. Provisioning special funds by the Energy Department for strengthening of sagging electric transmission conductors, poles, insulate transmission conductors, fixing of spikes around electric poles, barbed wire fencing and for replacement of weak electric poles.
5. The department has proposed the Energy department to insulate 1519.36 km length transmission conductors across 17 forest divisions and to include areas in which elephants move other than elephant corridors.
6. The department has proposed the Energy department to repair sagging transmission lines at 6355 places identified by the department.
7. In the event of information on the movement of elephants in a certain area, Discoms are switching off power for a temporary period.
8. A WhatsApp group has been formed with department officials and Discom officials to share information on the movement of elephants.
9. In order to arrest the deaths of elephants due to electrocution VSS, EDC, Forest department and Discoms are conducting awareness programmes.
10. A person sharing information on power theft by hooking is being rewarded at the Forest Division level.
11. Action is being taken against Forest department officials, Discom officials and the general public for deaths of elephants due to electrocution under Odisha Wildlife Conservation Act-1972 and Indian Electricity Regulatory Act of 1959.
12. Orders have been given for chopping off branches of trees that make transmission lines sag.
13. Regular checking of transmission lines by Chief Electrical Inspector has been made mandatory under section 47 of Central Electricity Rules 1956.
14. The department has requested the Energy department to appoint an autonomous agency to review the technical/safety of the transmission lines annually.
15. Anti-depredation squad, Elephant protection group and para staff and patrolling vehicles have been provided to different forest divisions to check elephant deaths due to electrocution.
16. Energy Department has been alerted through signages on elephant corridors.
17. Drone camera is being used to keep track of elephant movement in the Angul forest division. A control room has been opened to maintain details of elephant movement on a daily basis.
18. Elephant protection officials are on a regular basis, 24×7 patrolling either by foot or by vehicle in elephant movement areas.
The big question remains to be answered after all these sincere efforts, why elephants continue to die of electrocution and action has been taken against only four Energy department officials in a span of 10 years.