The damaged solar fences and covered trenches in the forested areas of border villages in Mayurbhanj district stand testimony to irregularities in construction of these facilities to prevent elephant inroads into the district.
The fences are on the verge of collapse due to poor standard of work while the trenches in several places have been levelled by frequent visits of herds of elephants as those were not deep enough. As a result, the pachyderms can easily reach the forest-side villages.
Sources said the Forest Department had put up 35 km of solar fences at a cost of around Rs 50 lakh and spent Rs 1.04 crore for digging up 26 km of trenches in Morada, Rasgobindpur and Suliapada blocks under Deuli and Rasgobindpur forest ranges in the last two years.
Though the pillars for solar fences should be made of concrete, it is alleged that bamboo poles have been put up in their places.
Similarly, the trenches should be deep and wide but the guideline has been violated here also. In some places, while batteries of solar fences have been stolen, in others, fences were removed by the residents of bordering areas of West Bengal who are opposed to it.
A local, Manoj Singh, said though the facilities were meant to prevent elephants from entering human habitations, those have failed to serve the purpose due to poor standard of work and lack of maintenance.
Baripada DFO Sanjay Swain, however, rubbished the allegations of violating norms.
He said while at least Rs 2.5 lakh is required for each km of solar fencing, the department is providing them only Rs 1.5 lakh and no fund was released earlier for maintenance of damaged fences or trenches.
“Both the facilities are supposed to be maintained regularly as these are not permanent structures. More importantly, the solar fences are put up only on private land and that too as per their convenience. After three or four months when the elephants move out, they ask us to dismantle the fences,” he said.
The forest officer informed that they have sent a proposal to increase fund allocation so that strong structures can be erected. “Earlier there was a provision to use bamboo poles but now concrete pillars are being used for the fences. A month back, we also received some funds for maintenance of the fences and trenches, which will be done before the arrival of the elephants,” he added.
Come September, a herd of over 100 elephants from Jharkhand and West Bengal enters Odisha territory through Mayurbhanj.
The herd goes on a rampage killing people and cattle besides damaging properties worth several lakhs of rupees and crops in hundreds of acres of land. According to official reports, the elephants have killed 20 persons in the last five years.