Another elephant died of electrocution after coming in contact with a low-lying high-tension power cable in the forested area of Jashpur. The toll from 2019 to date is now 15 in Chhattisgarh. On the other hand, two state government departments are feuding internally, leading to delays in implementing1674 crore project to lift the power cables, and this delay is costing lives.
Expressing his concern over the loss incurred to wildlife, wildlife activist Nitin Singhvi has written a letter to the Chief Secretary requesting him for finding a permanent solution to the issue. Singhvi said Chhattisgarh State Power Distribution Company Limited (CSPDCL) in 2018 had demanded Rs 1674 crore for lifting and installing cover conductor on 810-kilometer-long 33 Kilovolt cables and 3761-kilometre-long 11-kilovolt capacity cables from Forest & Climate Change Department. The Chhattisgarh Forest Department raised the demand for the fund with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change, Government of India. In response, the Government of India, in 2019, wrote back to Forest Department that any fixing of power cables and installation covered conductor on power cables is the job of Power Distribution Company. The government cited the decision of the National Green Tribunal and the Supreme Court, saying if the power distribution company fails in doing so, action could be taken against officials concerned under the Protection of Wildlife Act, Indian Penal Code and Electricity Act.
The CSPDCL said the order of the Supreme Court and NGT does not apply to them. After the reply of GoI, Forest Department wrote to CSPDCL to bear the expenses of Rs 1674, but CSPDCL straightway refused to accept the decision of the Apex Court and NGT.
In 2018, Chhattisgarh High Court stated resolution of the petition doesn’t mean the officers become inactive. The good works should continue as the officials aren’t working for themselves but future generations. Singhvi said it’s been over three years, but CSPDCL hasn’t yet undertaken the work while the elephants are dying. Both departments are just busy with formalities. The Forest Department keeps sending reminders, and CSPDCL continues demanding Rs 1674 crore.
On the direction of the GoI, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) had directed field officers to file a complaint against Power Distribution Company’s district officers whenever an animal such as elephant, bear or leopard dies of electrocution due to low-lying power cables under Wildlife Protect Act, Indian Penal Code and Electricity Act and produce Challan in the Court.
In June 2020, after an elephant died after contacting a cable of illegal power connection at Gersa of Raigarh, Dharamjaigarh Sub-Division Assistant Engineer and Other Departmental employees were booked under relevant Act and sent to judicial custody. In response, CSPDCL wrote to Principal Secretary Forest Department, citing the Electricity Act 2003 and Notification dated April 13, 2015, asking him to direct the field officials of Forest Department to stay within legal limits. CSPDCL claimed they have already done a lot of work to fix the power lines after a survey in elephant-affected areas, but if the government and forest department are unwilling to pay, they cannot work.
CSPDCL said it’s the job of the Forest Department to ensure elephants stay in the jungle and not stray in residential areas. Singhvi said residential areas are in the middle of woods, and illegal bore-wells are running there. Power cables are running way below the set standard. It’s natural for elephants to roam in forests and nearby areas.
On Tuesday, an elephant came to a settlement near Tapkara Forest Department, forcing the department to cut off the electricity to cables to save the elephant. The carelessness of the Forest Department had led to the death of an elephant, said Singhvi.