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Jumbo guardians take on power officials
Wobbly electricity poles along Khunti’s elephant corridor are death traps

Ranchi, Feb. 19: The state forest department is actively considering booking guilty rural electrification officials under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, for recent elephant deaths due to faulty poles and wires, in arguably the first serious punitive step against bureaucracy for causing mortal harm to a Schedule I animal.

The forest department received a jolt on January 16 when two female elephants were fatally electrocuted by high-voltage wires in Parastoli under Sonahatu block, Khunti. It prompted principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) A.K. Malhotra to dig into records of similar elephant deaths in Khunti — three last year and 10 since the district came into existence in 2004.

Two days ago, Malhotra’s office shot a letter to forest secretary Alka Tiwari for a go-ahead before starting penalty procedures.

Punishment for killing the Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus) can go up to a seven-year jail term.

In this case, once forest department takes up the case, the court will decide the degree of intent or neglect by erring electrification officials that caused the fatalities.

“It is appalling. We have well-documented evidence of lapses by officials involved in rural electrification work under Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana in this region,” Malhotra told The Telegraph this afternoon.

“Being a PCCF, I am trying to do all that is needful to protect and conserve the state’s biodiversity. We have finally decided to act tough. I have written to my senior for appropriate action against culprits,” he explained.

Khunti forests offer elephants arterial corridors for migration from Chhattisgarh to Bengal and Odisha via Jharkhand. But rural electrification works are turning these traditional corridors into elephant graveyards.

Khunti DFO K.K. Tripathi pointed out that in place of iron poles, cement ones were being erected. “Their quality is so poor that the moment they come in contact with an elephant, they snap, leading to electrocution of the giant mammal,” he said.

He added that they had held meetings with electricity, NTPC and energy officials in this regard earlier. “We asked them to fix iron poles. They said only cement poles were permitted under norms. But we are sure they use substandard building materials,” he said.

Norms say cement poles have to be put 5ft inside the soil and barricaded. The wires should be 8m or over 26ft above the ground as a safety measure for both man and animal.

“We have seen that in many cases poles are fixed just 2-3ft inside the earth without fencing. During rains, the soil gets wet and loosens and poles crash on the ground. No one attends to that on time, which makes the poles a death sentence for elephants,” Tripathi said.

According to a senior official of the wildlife directorate, the 10 elephant deaths in Khunti since 2004 due to lapses by electricity and energy officials were on record, but the numbers could be higher.