All’s not well in Odisha’s Grand Trunk corridors (Bhubaneswar, India)


Riyan Ramanath V|, Times of India

Date Published

Months after the deaths of elephants in the state, officials of the forest department stumble upon their carcasses. The cause of their deaths remains unclear months later.

Altogether 46 elephants died in a year between 2000 and 2010 on an average, sources said. As per unconfirmed reports, thirty nine elephants died within a span of 13 months from April 2015 to June 2016. The average yearly casualties touched 73 from 2010 onwards.

Not enough to jolt the forest department from its slumber, one would think.

A state that prides itself on its vast forests has not been able to ensure a safe and secure habitat for its elephants thus far.

While it’s widely known that the biggest threat to elephants is from ivory trade as the pachyderms are poached for their tusks, mines, open wells, railway tracks criss-crossing the state’s forests often turn into deaths traps for the endangered species. There is, of course, no undermining the threat from man-animal conflicts and the shrinking habitat of the elephants amid rapid urbanization.

Though a comprehensive wildlife management plan is underway to study the lost habitats of the jumbos with the state government having signed an agreement with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), insiders believe it is not going to be of much help. The reason being the state government’s dilly-dally attitude in notifying the implementation of the declared elephant corridors allegedly due to threat from a powerful mining lobby.

It is pertinent to note that WTI is a private nationalized body working towards the conservation of forests for the past 17 years. The sources said the state government has been sitting on the proposal to implement the development of the proposed elephant corridors for the past six years. This despite the fact that a 420.8km elephant corridor was identified in 2010 and sent to the government for issuance of a notification regarding the same to lend it a legal sanctity.

According to the Wildlife Society of Odisha (WSO), the 14 identified corridors span 870sq km and share some areas with West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. The WSO, which is a private body working for conservation of forests and wildlife, alleged that instead of taking steps to declare the identified passage as corridors by getting them approved from the Centre, the state government went ahead and identified nine more corridors in April 2012.

That is not all, the sources revealed that the government cleared the lease of a mine belonging to SAIL at Kiriburu a few years ago, despite its proximity to the Karo-Karampadar elephant corridor. Had the elephant corridor been notified, the mining lease wouldn’t have fructified, they added.

The WSO’s data further revealed that a cement company had dug up a four-km railway line in a trench which was about 30ft deep and 40ft wide. This prevented elephants from migrating to the Barunia forests from Kapilash Wildlife Sanctuary. “After we intervened, the company was made to cough up rupees four crore for the wildlife management plan and take up plantation there,” said WSO secretary Biswajit Mohanty.

The government’s lack of will was also reflected in the withdrawal of two proposed elephant reserves – Baitarani and South Odisha. “The government is not only sitting on the proposal of the elephant corridors, it has not yet brought out a notification for two elephant reserves. The government had identified Mahanadi elephant reserve, which is spread over 8,036 sq km, Mayurbhanj reserve (7,043 sq km) and Sambalpur reserve (5,846 sq km) and notified them later. But it is yet to notify the south Odishareserve (4,216 sq km) and Baitarani reserve (10,516 sq km),” read the WSO data.

Wildlife campaigner S N Das said the anthrax case in Similipal should have served as a wake-up call for the forest department. “It is not known as to why the authorities are not hiring experts to understand the root cause of the presence of anthrax infection in the reserve. The virus is spreading in a particular region of the reserve and the elephants are falling easy prey to it,” he said.

The WSO claimed that 470 elephants have died in the past six years. “Of the 470 deaths, 85 were killed by poachers for ivory, 47 were killed by laying electrocution trap and 26 were killed by hanging electric cables. While 15 died after coming under the wheels of trains, two others were killed in road accident,” Mohanty said. The rest died due to accidental fall in trenches, diseases, old age and infighting. In 69 cases, the reasons of death couldn’t be ascertained.

As per the Odisha Landscape Elephant Project sagging power lines alone have caused the unnecessary deaths of more than 120 elephants in the state over the past 12 years.