Illegal power fences claimed 37 human lives in three years

It is learnt that a large number of residents near forests have set up illegal electric fences in the wake of rising wildlife attacks.
Representational purpose.
Representational purpose.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM : Unauthorised electric fences erected to prevent wildlife incursions into farmlands, especially on forest fringes, have been proving fatal for humans as well, with 37 people electrocuted over the past three years in the state. In 2023-24 alone, 16 people and six animals died after coming into contact with such illegal fences.

As per the data with the state department of electrical inspectorate (EI), nine deaths due to electrocution from illegal fencing were reported from Palakkad in 2023-24 — the highest in the state.

Three persons lost their lives in Malappuram, two in Wayanad and one each in Thrissur and Idukki districts during the period. The total number of similar deaths in the state in 2022-23 and 2021-22 were 14 and 7, respectively.

Installing unauthorised electric fencing is punishable under law, and in case of accidental deaths, the offenders are charged under IPC Section 304 which deals with culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The maximum punishment is up to 10 years in jail as well as a fine.

However, in most of the cases, accused persons got off with minor punishment.

It is learnt that a large number of residents near forests have set up illegal electric fences in the wake of rising wildlife attacks. “Such accidents could have been prevented had people opted for the legal and scientific route,” said Manilal S, additional chief electrical inspector. As per the rule, electric fencing requires prior sanction from EI. “Electric fence energiser is compulsory while installing such fences. The equipment ensures adequate voltage supply to the fence and will not kill humans or animals coming into contact with it. They will feel a shock but it won’t be lethal as the amplification is low,” Manilal said.

Victims’ kin not eligible for goverment's aid, says officer

A senior police officer said most of the persons convicted in electric fencing accident death cases did not get maximum punishment stipulated under law. “Some did not even get any jail term because the fence was within their compound and the victims were encroachers who did not have a valid reason to come into contact with it. In some other cases, the accused got short jail terms of three or six months, and rarely five years,” he said. The officer added that courts will not show leniency in cases where the fence is put up near public thoroughfares or other risky places.

A senior official with the district administration in Palakkad said in the case of illegal fencing accident cases, the families are not eligible for compensation from the government as the deaths are not due to the government’s lapse.

As per the EI guidelines, electric fences should conform to ISI standards. Fencing that border public thoroughfares require a warning sign “CAUTION: Electric animal fence”. An additional physical barrier is mandatory for fences installed for security purposes. Fence energisers of good quality cost about Rs 40,000. The EI charges `2,500 to inspect an installation.

Decline in total electricity-related accidents

At 362, the accidents related to electricity by all causes showed a steep decline in 2023-24, from previous year’s 421. However, the number of people who died in the accidents saw only a marginal dip - from 209 in 2022-23 to 205. A total of 48 animal deaths in electrical accidents were reported in 2023-24, compared to 65 previous year. After unauthorised electric fences, use of domestic appliances was the cause of most electrocutions, killing 12 people in 2023-24.

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