Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

With 281 lightning deaths reported mostly in rural areas of Odisha during 2021-22, environmentalists and weather experts have expressed concern over the rampant felling of palm trees that give protection against lightning.

As per experts, there used to be palm trees on the borders of every piece of land earlier and those used to act like shields against lightning. Lightening used to strike tall palm trees and as a result, farmers were getting escaped while working on their farmlands. However, due to the fall in the number of palm trees, farmers now take shelter under other bushy trees during rain while working on their farmlands and get killed by lightning.

“Palm trees are taller than coconut trees. Lightning strikes those trees on farmlands and farmers escape while working during rain. However, due to nonexistent of palm trees, farmers in rural areas are getting killed due to lightning. Hence more and more palm trees should be planted,” said senior meteorologist Umasankar Das.

However, the people in the rural area are no longer interested in planting palm trees due to the dwindling number of thatched houses.

“Since the number of thatched houses has dwindled in rural areas, the utility of palm trees has reduced a lot. Hence, people are no more interested in planting palm trees," said Parsuram Khutia, a farmer.

Odisha Forest Department had taken up an initiative in 2028 to advise and encourage farmers in the rural areas to plant more and more palm trees. Moreover, the Department itself had set up a plan to plant palm trees. However, the initiative did not fetch the desired result.

“It takes three to four years to have palm saplings from seeds. The initiative to plant more and more palm trees has failed due to misunderstanding,” said former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) Bijay Ketan Patnaik.

Meanwhile, a teacher from Bishola village under Kaptipada block in Mayurbhanj district has started a special awareness programme named- ‘Mission Tala’. Under the mission, Santosh Sahu is creating awareness among the people of the rural areas in the district to plant more and more palm trees. He is also inspiring and motivating youths and taking their help to plant thousands of palm seeds in the villages.

“By planting palm trees, we can reduce the lightning-related deaths. Moreover, we can create a healthy and beautiful environment. Palm trees are also required for maintaining our biodiversity,” said Sahu.

Meanwhile, the Odisha government has demanded lightning to be declared as a natural disaster. The State government has given a proposal in this regard to the Centre.

“Many people are getting killed due to lightning strikes in Odisha. The State government is providing an ex-gratia of Rs 4,00,000 to the family of the deceased. If lightning is included in the list of natural disasters then the family members of the deceased will be able to get an increased ex-gratia amount as per the provisions of natural disasters,” said State Revenue and Disaster Management Minister Pramila Mallik.