Ramakanta Biswas

Five days have passed since an elephant rescue operation went horribly wrong resulting in the death of two persons and later the pachyderm itself, but the crucial question who was behind the botched up ‘Operation Gajraj’ still remains unanswered.

While the deaths of OTV’s chief reporter Arindam Das and ODRAF jawan Sitaram Murmu in the mishap raised a series of uneasy questions, locals in Athagarh as well as wildlife experts blamed the Forest department for the tragedy. 

They questioned as to why the tusker stuck in the water for so long could not be rescued by the Forest department. Besides, the rationale behind sending the ODRAF team to the swollen river to rescue the stranded elephant has also been questioned. 

“It was the responsibility of the Forest department to drive away the elephant from the river towards the forest. Instead, they sat still. As a result, two precious lives were lost,” said Sunil Sutar, former sarpanch of Kakhadi panchayat.


The Forest department allegedly forgot about rescue of the elephant after the boat tragedy and left the animal to the mercy of God. Some locals had spotted the elephant near the barrage in the wee hours after the boat tragedy. However, no employees of the Forest department was seen in the vicinity. 

After struggling in the water currents for long, the exhausted elephant finally gave up and sunk in the floodwater. The carcass of the tusker was found near Jobra barrage on Sunday. 

Environmentalist Biswajit Mohanty said, “The first strategy should have been to make the area crowd free. Many mistakes were committed there that resulted in the tragedy.”

Ironically, the questions as to who had given permission to the ODRAF team to rescue the elephant and why Forest department employees were not part of the rescue operation also remained unanswered.
“We are inquiring why the tusker was stranded there and why it could not be rescued. If any negligence is found, action will be taken,” said Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) of Odisha, Shashi Paul.

He refused to comment on the ODRAF boat mishap stating that the concerned department was inquiring into it.