Sharmili Mallick

Dhenkanal: Following the death of seven elephants near Kamalanga village under Sadar range in Dhenkanal district late on Friday night, the Forest & Environment, and the Energy department dismissed one official and suspended six others for dereliction of duties. While three officials each from the Forest department & CESU were suspended, the junior manager of CESU Meramundali section was dismissed following the incident.

Earlier, the Forest department had blamed the electricity department for sheer negligence that led to the tragic death of seven elephants near Kamalanga village under Sadar range in Dhenkanal district late on Friday night.

In a press release, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) alleged that the Dhenkanal DFO had written to the Central Electricity Supply Utility of Odisha (CESU) last year to rectify the sagging 11 KV lines in the region but no action was taken in this regard.

“In the coordination meeting held under the chairmanship of Additional Chief Secretary, Forest & Environment Department on March 29, 2018, it was decided that the electric transmission line going through the elephant movement area should be invariably insulated in new cases and for older transmission line, the replacement should be phase wise,” the release read.

Subsequently, the Dhenkanal DFO had submitted a stretch of 136.57 kms of LT lines passing through vulnerable areas for cabling. In the coordination meeting held on September 24 with the Energy Department, the CESU officials informed that the cabling of transmission line is yet to be taken up in Dhenkanal Division of Angul Circle although the lists of transmission lines for cabling were submitted to the Energy Department six months back.

The DFO, Dhenkanal had also submitted the proposal for cabling of transmission line in Kamalanga area. Due to non-rectification of sagging lines and non-cabling of transmission line, the accident occurred, it further read.

According to reports, a herd of 13 elephants had strayed into the region a few days ago. As many as seven elephants were electrocuted after coming in contact with a live wire in Kamalanga area of the district.

The jumbos were reportedly passing through a farmland near Kamalanga when they came in contact with the high voltage live wire that was laid for the construction of railway tracks in the area.

“The electric wire was left in open carelessly for the last 15 days and the concerned departments were apprised about it. The district administration including the electric and forest departments are responsible for the mishap that took the lives of seven jumbos,” alleged a local.

Forest and Environment minister Bijayshree Routray also held CESU responsible for the mishap.

“The matter was brought to the notice of CESU officials. The villagers had also complained about the live electric wire that was laid at a height of five-feet and it posed a threat for both animals and human beings. But unfortunately, CESU did not take any concrete steps in this regard,” stated Routray.

On the other hand, irate locals have blamed both the forest and energy department for the unfortunate incident.

"Elephants have a major role to play in our environment and are as important as we humans are. It is so saddening to note that due to lack of coordination between forest and electricity department seven precious lives of elephants were lost," said Bulu Behera, a resident of Kamalanga area where the mishap occurred.

Meanwhile, the energy department said enquiry is being done and accordingly action will be taken.

"Consumer supply was not given to that area where the incident occurred. The connection was only meant for providing temporary feeder for railway construction site. An enquiry team has been set up which will take stock of the situation and action will be taken as per the probe report," secretary to Energy department Hemant Sharma said.

“There are 200 places in Dhenakanal district and 60 in Joranda itself where high voltage electric wires are sagging at a low height and left unattended. Despite repeated letters to CESU by the forest department and stakeholders, nothing tangible has been done till date,” alleged an environmentalist and wildlife conservationist, Dr Biswajit Mohanty.

As per the Indian Electricity Rules, 1956, 11 KV lines should be laid above the height of 5.5-feet but the wires at the mishap spot were below the prescribed height and CESU has to give an explanation in this regard, said Mohanty.

“Letters were written to Managing Director of CESU about the high voltage lines sagging at different locations in Dhenkanal. If any such mishaps occur, either the linemen or engineers are taken into account and no action is taken against the higher authorities. This system should end here and the MD of the concerned company should actually be sued in the matter,” the environmentalist added.

It may be noted that more than 175 elephants died in electrocution in the last 18 years in Odisha.

On September 5, two elephants died after being electrocuted in Badapokhari village under Dalijoda forest range in Jajpur district. On September 19, a jumbo was killed due to electrocution at Uparjhara village in Bolangir district.

Moreover, at least 13 wild elephants died in different electrocution mishaps in Jharsuguda district last year.

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