BHUBANESWAR/ BERHAMPUR: With five elephants getting killed in Ganjam district within a fortnight, a blamegame has ensued between the wildlife and electricity authorities in Odisha.

Forest and wildlife officers blamed power distribution companies of not adhering to statutory norms, leading to frequent death of pachyderms in the state. “The killing of five elephants, including two calves and a tusker, in Ganjam since September 25 was because of ‘deliberate electrocution’ by poachers,” principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) J D Sharma told TOI on Monday.

“The electricity distribution companies should install circuit breakers, use insulated transmission wires and erect tall poles (at least 2.7 metre above tree height) to prevent elephant deaths. Despite our repeated reminders they are not doing anything,” Sharma added.

Sources said Sharma, in an official communique, has attributed the elephant deaths in Ganjam to “illegal hooking from 11 KV lines” and said the chief engineer-cum-electrical inspector had not inspected the transmission lines.

A tusker died at Karchuli jungle in Buguda forest range on September 25, followed by an elephant and its calf at Karadabani forest area under Gallery forest range in Ghumusar (north) division and another elephant and its two-month-old calf at Kanakhai jungle under Khallikote forest range on September 6 and 7 respectively. Officers said the big mammals died after coming in contact with live electric wires spread by some locals through hooking from transmission lines to hunt animals or to protect their crop.

Energy minister Arun Sahu disputed Sharma’s version. “We have no information that the elephant died because of fault in power distribution. It appears to be a case of poaching and the forest department should take appropriate remedial action.” Energy secretary P K Jena said, “We do not deny there are deficiencies in electrical infrastructure, but in this particular case it seems to be criminal activity by poachers. It might not be always possible to stop hooking activities inside forests.”

Forest secretary R K Sharma agreed the Ganjam killings were due to “poaching”. “We are disturbed. I and the PCCF (wildlife) would be visiting Ganjam on Tuesday to take stock of the situation and work out strategies to prevent recurrence,” he told TOI.

Regional chief conservator of forests, Berhampur, Jitendra Kumar said it was the responsibility of power companies to guard against illegal hooking. In some cases, the company should snap power supply at night in forest areas, mainly wildlife habitats, in consultation with forest staff, he suggested. Kumar said forest officers have written several letters to Southco (a power distribution company operating in Ganjam and southern parts of Odisha) to take steps to prevent death of animals due to electrocution. “The matter was discussed in different meetings, but the company did not take steps leading to killing of the elephants,” Kumar added.

Official records show that since 2008 as many as 295 elephants, including 61 due to deliberate or accidental electrocution, have perished in Odisha. The rising number of deaths due to electrocution, forest officers said, was because of spread of electricity in rural areas without any precaution.

Chief executive officer, Southco, S Choudhury debunked the allegations, saying: “It is not practically possible to check hooking in the jungle areas with the available infrastructure.” He said the company has increased the height of transmission lines in forest areas, particularly in elephant habitat zones. “To take further steps to prevent death of wild animals, we have submitted a proposal worth Rs 40.35 crore to the state government for the eight southern Odisha districts,” he added.

DFO, Berhampur, S S Mishra said the government had asked forest officers to prosecute power distribution companies, if any animal died due to electrocution caused by the power distributor’s fault.

Forest officers said they had intensified patrolling in Ganjam after the latest deaths and also arrested a personSantosh Nayak (42) of Lendhei village in Tarsingi area, in connection with the elephant deaths at Gallery forest range on Saturday. Two others allegedly involved in the case are absconding. Earlier, forest staff nabbed a person in connection with the killing and looting of tusk of a pachyderm in Buguda forest range on September 25. “We have also declared rewards to those who provide information on laying of electric wires for poaching,” said DFO, Ghumusar (north), K C Mishra.

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