Guwahati: Six months ago, the forest department issued a warning to Dulal Ghatawal from Udmari village in Nagaon district. It was found that Ghatawal was illegally drawing electricity from high-powered domestic lines to set up electric fencing on his land.
However, apparently, Ghatawal didn’t pay much heed to the warning. The result was fatal. On the night of May 15, an adult male elephant lost its life after coming in direct contact with the fence.
Forest officials nabbed Ghatawal from his home on Thursday morning and handed him over to the police. A case no 292/19 has been registered against him at Samuguri PS.
Montu Bora, a forester I, Salna Range, under which the area falls, said, “Today morning, we found the electrocuted carcass of the pachyderm near a paddy field. After investigating, we found the electric wires used for setting up the fence from Ghatawal’s house. He did this deliberately to keep elephants away from his fields.”
Environmentalist Dulu Bora, who lives in Chapanalla village, around 10 km from the spot where the elephant died, said, “Such kind of deaths has been happening since quite some time. Last year, I found such deactivated fences on six to seven occasions. They set up these fences at night and dismantle them in morning. It was important to set an example. Maybe, the arrest of this person will serve that purpose.”
Montu Bora said that if the charges against Ghatawal can be proved, he can go to jail for at least five years under Wildlife Act of India for killing a Schedule I animal.
While people have been arrested in Assam on charges of being responsible for electrocution of a pachyderm, there has been no conviction so far. Bora said, “In Salna range, we have arrested three people on charges of electrocuting elephants last year. Cases on them are going on.”
Electrocution: Numero-uno killer
As per the data presented by the Assam government during the Budget session of Assam Legislative Assembly earlier this year, electrocution has killed elephants in the state more than any other reason. As per the figures, since 2010, 92 elephants have died from electrocution. Apart from that 20 elephants died from poaching, 54 from train accidents, 38 from general accidents, 30 from poisoning and 15 from injury.
Dr Anupam Sarmah, head, Assam landscapes, WWF-India says electrocution has become a major challenge in the conservation of elephants throughout the country. “Not just in Assam, elephants are dying from electrocution in Bengal, North India and many other places. Fences made with illegally drawn current from domestic lines generally have electricity upto 220 volt and they can kill any animal. Even humans are dying from such fences. Last year, a forest staff in Nameri died from electrocution. In fact, in many encroached land, sometimes villagers who set up these fences themselves die though those deaths are hushed up most of the times. In some places, people even deploy generators so that the fences get uninterrupted power supply,” he said.
Sarmah suggested the use of a machine called energiser to reduce deaths from electrocution. “Use of energisers increase volts but the ampere value remains very less. Also it ensures that there is no continuous flow of current. So, it doesn’t kill elephants or any other animal. It is a proven technology which is yielding results,” he explained.
Sarmah also opined that timely compensation to farmers for their crop damage and mass awareness drives can mitigate this problem to some extent.
Dulu Bora, who admittedly has a soft corner for the gentle giants, said in recent years, incidents of conflicts are happening because of rapid shrinking of elephant habitat. “Stone quarries have been set up inside elephant corridors. Blasting happens there day and night which disturbs the peace and tranquility of elephants. So, they are kind of forced to enter human habitats” he rued.