city TUESDAY, JANUARY 8, 2013
The deaths that no
t was a freezing winter night, just two days before the year would be left behind for a new one. The C h e n n a i - b o u n d Coromandel Express from Howrah was speeding through the Rambha forest area in Orissa at 110kph. “You don't know the chill that night,” says Orissa Chief Wildlife warden, JD Sharma, “but even in that cold our person informed the railway department.” But according to the East Coast Railway (ECoR) the message was delivered a tad late: precisely, just after the train ran over six elephants, which included a calf and a female elephant in advanced stage of pregnancy. This brings the toll of elephants killed by speeding trains in Orissa to 11 last year, of which one was run over in the same area. Reports of elephant deaths from the state that is home to 70 per cent of the elephant population in eastern India have become routine. In a span of five years 300 pachyderms have been killed. The causes include electrocution, which is rampant and occurs when elephants come into contact with electric wires; train accidents; poaching for ivory; and revengeful deaths caused by man-animal conflicts, among others.
According to conservationist Biswajit Mohanty, from the Wildlife Society of Orissa, there is no justice for elephant deaths. Mohanty, who has filed the largest number of Right to Information (RTI) applications in Orissa says that in spite of money and resources no one takes responsibility for these tragedies. “Needless to say, there is no accountability among forest officers in whose areas elephants get killed, there hasn't been a single conviction for poaching in the last two years,” he points out. In every instance only the lowest in the rung is suspended. In the recent train tragedy while the driver of the train was arrested, even the Divisional Railway Manager (DRM) must be arrested, he suggests. He cites the example of electrocution, which kills elephants every month and the reason 116 elephants have died between 2001 and 2012 all over the state. “Electrical lines are hanging low and are not fixed. Of the four electricity companies in the state, three are run by Reliance, a big company that is feared.” He says, “Despite demanding that managing directors be prosecuted nothing has been done. The local linesman is suspended and this doesn't solve the problem.” Sharma says that whether it is train accidents or electrocution, the railways and the electricity com-
panies must be pulled up and not just the forest department. “The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF), has sent advisories to the railways requesting certain norms to be adhered to when trains are passing elephant areas. In last week's case we did inform them that a herd would be crossing the tracks, but apparently they needed to be informed more than two hours prior,” he says. The train was running at a speed of 110kmh and it needs to slow down to 30kmh. “When the railway department is following this procedure of slowing down trains in other elephant-movement areas such as the Rajaji National Park in
Uttarkhand/Uttaranchal, why not Orissa?” he asks. Further defending the forest department, he explains that four segments in Orissa have been identified for trains to slow down in, namely Keonjhar, Athgar, Berhampur and Dhenkanal divisions. “If the railway department follows this, there won't be elephant deaths due to accidents,” he concludes. The ECoR authorities in turn point out the different topography of Rajaji National Park and the stretches in Orissa. As for deaths by electrocution which are rampant, Sharma explains that under rural electrification projects – Rajiv Gandhi Yojana and Biju Gram Jyothi
Yojana — many parts were electrified. Electricity lines are supported by cement poles that elephants rub against and these poles need protection around them. These lines seldom have circuit breakers and many electricity wires sag and are at heights that elephants come in contact with, he says. While elephants continue to die in Orissa, the question remains as to who will pay for the straightening of these high voltage electric lines. The state government of Orissa has been requesting for a grant sanction to use Compensatory Afforestation and Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA) funds for
Biswajit Mohanty from Orissa Wildlife society PHOTO: Arabinda Majhi, Wildlife Society of Orissa
city TUESDAY, JANUARY 8, 2013
one cares about
A train ran over six elephants recently in Orissa where 300 wild elephants have died in the last five years. But officials just don’t seem to care. Elizabeth Soumya reports.
roject Elephant was launched in 1992 by the Government of India Ministry of Environment and Forests to provide financial and technical support of wildlife management efforts by states for their free ranging populations of wild Asian Elephants. The main goals of the Project are as follows: n Ecological restoration of existing natural habitats and migratory routes of elephants. In 2007, there were a total of 110,000 km2 of elephant habitat of which 24,580 km2 were in 64 protected areas. There were 138 intrastate cor-
the purpose. The latest request was made by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik on January 1, 2013 to Jayanthi Natrajan, Union Minister of Environment and Forests. But Mohanty believes that money isn't the problem. “Money is squandered, despite allocation of funds there is no change in the situation. What is needed is enforcement, declaring elephant corridors does not take money and neither does slowing down trains,” he says. Apart from accidental deaths: “You must understand that Orissa is also highly mined and its forests are reducing,” points out Sharma. While Bauxite and coal mining in Orissa may have
Electrical lines hang low and are not fixed. Despite demands that managing directors be prosecuted nothing has been done. The local linesman is suspended and this doesn't solve the problem. JD Sharma Chief wildlife warden
created wealth, it has left elephant habitats depleted. The blasting, light and noise pollution is also disturbing elephants. “Since the mining boom in 2004–5, elephant habitats and corridors have been disturbed and they are moving all over the state,” says Mohanty. Even though this has meant more conflict in newer areas, mining continues. In Keonjhar, an iron ore mining area, Mohanty says that the elephant population that was 115 about seven years ago has dwindled to less than 40 today. Building of irrigation canals in elephant habitats, such as the Rengali project in Dhenkanal also leaves the elephants with no way of crossing the canals and causes
fragmentation of elephant habitats. “While corridors have been identified, they have not been notified,” says Mohanty. The past decade has not only seen deaths of elephants in Orissa, but also death and damage caused by elephants. According to the Orissa Post, Bijoyshree Routray, Forest and Environment Minister, Orissa, said in December 2012 that as many as 569 people were killed in elephant attacks in the State over the last decade; 73,922.66 acres of crop was damaged and the compensation made during this period was `1,134.21 lakh. In 2008, owing to the growing man-animal conflict the state had announced a `53 crore elephant
ridors, 28 inter-state corridors and 17 international corridors. n Development of scientific management planning for conservation of elephant habitats and viable elephant populations in India; n Promotion of measures for mitigation of man elephant conflict in crucial habitats; n Moderating impact of human and domestic stock activities in crucial elephant habitats; n Strengthening of measures for protection of wild elephants from poachers and unnatural causes of death; n Research on Elephant management related issues; n Increase public conservation education and awareness programs about elephants; n Eco-development of elephant habitats; n Provide improved veterinary care for elephants. n To have more tusked elephants. management plan. But Mohanty says that compensation is tardy and hasn't come since 2008–09 in Dhenkanal District, despite demanding it. “This leads to reduced tolerance for crop raiding by elephants which in turn will heighten the ongoing man-elephant conflict,” he says. Retributional deaths by angry human victims through shooting and poisoning of elephants is not uncommon. Mohanty is cynical about the future of elephants in the state and admits it is grim. Asked why Orissa is so unsafe for elephants, Sharma, retorts, “tell me which state is safe”. Maybe indicating our elephants have nowhere to go anyway.