BHUBANESWAR: Gajah Bandhu (Friends of Elephants), a network of wildlife volunteers and activists, today demanded that the Odisha government should immediately notify all the 14 identified elephant corridors under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 as sensitive ecological zones (ESZ) to give them legal protection.
Though 14 elephant corridors had been identified five years ago, they were not notified so far. The powerful mining lobby was preventing the legal notification of these elephant corridors which had been demarcated by the forest department, said the members of Gajah Bandhu.
The network, which held its second meeting here, said that during the last 11 months, officially 50 elephants have died in the State out of which 29 cases were found to be “unnatural deaths” and in five cases the reasons could not be ascertained.
Expressing concern over the elephant deaths, the Gajah Bandhu members said that despite allocation of crores of rupees of budget for staff and vehicles for elephant protection there has been no visible improvement in safety for elephants.
As many as 14 elephants have been killed by poachers in the last 11 months, but not a single culprit has been apprehended till now due to lack of effective intelligence network, according to a release issued by Biswajit Mohanty, convenor of Gajah Bandhu.
Gajah Bandhu members said they were shocked to know that since December 2012, as many as 27 elephants have fallen into open wells in 17 incidents and two adult tuskers lost their lives while many others were injured. Members decided to volunteer to identify such dangerous open wells inform the local forest officials.
A total of 28 participants from elephant bearing districts of Sambalpur, Keonjhar, Sambalpur, Angul, Dhenkanal, Jajpur, Cuttack and Deogarh attended the Gajah Bandhu meeting.
The human elephant conflict caused by elephant raids on crops and houses was discussed in detailed and it was found that the Compassionate Payment system for loss of crop or life was hopelessly inadequate and the process of payment was extremely unfriendly with ambiguous guidelines. Despite several letters to the forest minister since the last one year, the government has not issued guidelines/clarifications, they said.
Among other things, the Gajah Bandhu members demanded that no postmortem of a dead elephant should be done without presence of at least two independent observers who should be the honorary wildlife warden and a local wildlife volunteer/activist.
The government should issue guidelines for payment of compassionate claims for crop and house damage by elephants after obtaining inputs from all stakeholders, the network demanded.
The government should hold senior forest officers accountable for avoidable elephant deaths in their areas and not punish only subordinate staff like forest guards/foresters, they said.
They further demanded that cases should be booked against Executive Engineer/ Managing Director of electricity distribution companies for allowing sagging lines to kill elephants.
All poaching cases should be properly investigated and the culprits identified and jailed, the network demanded, while adding that threats to elephants like open wells and canals should be addressed by appropriate mitigation measures.