Odisha is sitting over a draft notification for declaration of 14 elephant corridors that would ensure the animals do not stray into human habitations in search of food, the forest and environment department admitted in a reply to an RTI application.
In January 2010, Odisha government had identified 14 corridors for safe movement of the elephants which frequently come out of their habitation in search of food and water. In February 2012, the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife) proposed to the forest and environment department for issue of the notification under Environmental Protection Act, 1986.
The department in November 2012 then wrote back to the office of principal chief conservator of forests(wildlife) to send the draft notification for finalising it. However, more than three-and-a-half years after the request, the PCCF (wildlife) is yet to send it, the forest and environment department said in a reply to Dr Biswajit Mohanty, former member of National Board of Wildlife. Dr Mohanty had sought the details of the elephant corridors notification and the name of the officials who are responsible for processing of the same.
The 14 corridors proposed for notification are 1) Telkoi-Pallahara, 2) Kuldiha-Hadgarh-Simlipal, 3) Kotgarh-Chandrapur, 4) Badampahara-Karida, 5) Deuli-Suliapada, 6) Karo-Karampada, 7) Maulabhanj-Jiridimal-Anantpur, 8) Kanheijharan-Anantpur, 9) Buguda-Nayagarh, 10) Nuagan-Barunei, 11) Tala-Phulagarh, 12) Barapahad-Tarabha-Kantamal. 13) Karlapat-Urladani 14) Badampad-Dhobadhobani. These corridors when built would be 420.8 km long and spread over an area of 870 sq km connecting the States of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Chhatisgarh with Odisha. In 2010, the State forest and environment department had proposed Rs 54 crore to be spent over a period of next 5 years.
Though the corridors are yet to be notified officially, the State government has spent around Rs 20 crore in last 6 years, official sources said. In 2015 census done by Odisha government found there were a total of 1954 elephants in Odisha of which 1096 were females, 341 males and 490 calves.
Odisha PCCF(wildlife) Siddhant Das said that he is not aware if the said draft notification was pending in his office. However, another senior official of his office confirmed that the draft notification is indeed lying there, but could not be sent to the department due to lack of staff. “We are short of ministerial staff and have other priorities,” the official said on conditions of anonymity. When asked if the department was authorised to spend the money in the absence of a legal notification, the official said a notification was not a bar on spending for elephant corridors.
Noted wildlife activist, Belinda Wright of Wildlife Protection Society of India told The Indian Express that the delay in notification of elephant corridors is being unfair to both people and the animals.
“Both human an elephants have lived in peace for a long time. But with shrinkage of space for elephants, the conflict between them and humans has become a scourge of our time. The elephants need free access and to deny them would lead to terrible conflict. The delay in notification is something the government can’t put in backburner,” she said.
With no elephant corridors in place, more and more elephants are falling in wells, dying on train tracks or falling victim to retaliatory attacks after straying from corridors. As per a State government report, since 2012 more than 840 elephants have died due to human-elephant conflict. In December 2012, 5 elephants were killed in Rambha area of Ganjam district after a speeding Coromondel Express ran through a herd as it was crossing it. Between April 2010 and March 2015, elephants killed 660 humans, damaged 8000 houses, destroyed 87403 acres of standing crops while another 270 were injured. A total sum of Rs 43.35 crore as paid as compensation.
Noted wildlife activist Ranjit Patnaik alleged that Steel Authority of India Limited was allowed to mine on proposed Karo-Karimpadar elephant corridor after the company agreed to provide a Fortuner Toyota to the Ministry of Environment and Forests staff for conducting field inspections. The Fortuner later ended being used by the office of Union Minister of Forest and Environment Prakash Javdekar.
Lack of elephant corridors has meant high human-elephant conflicts from Dhenkanal, Keonjhar and Angul districts where 127 elephants died out of a total 346 elephant deaths between April 2010 to March 2015. The World Bank funded Rengali irrigation canal that flows through Angul and Dhenkanal district has completely disrupted the natural elephant corridor that once existed. On an average, 70 elephants die each year. The famous Chandaka wildlife sanctuary near Bhubaneswar, which was once full of elephants is now empty as the ones that deserted are unable to return due to lack of intact corridors.