Athagarh jumbo killings: Odisha forest department in damage control mode as another carcass exhumed

Carcass of a male tusker, suspected to have been killed and buried, was exhumed by officials near Kharada village within Baramba range where the STF had dug out remains of two elephants.
Representational image (Photo | EPS)
Representational image (Photo | EPS)

BHUBANESWAR: Discovery of yet another tusker's skeletal remains from Athagarh forest division on Wednesday has raised the heat on Forest department which has assigned a Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF)-ranked officer to get to the roots of the issue.

Carcass of a male tusker, suspected to have been killed and buried, was exhumed by officials near Kharada village within Baramba range where the Special Task Force (STF) of the Crime Branch had dug out remains of a male and a female elephants on June 2 and 3.

"We came to know about the incident during investigation in the previous two cases. Though skeletal remains of the tusker were recovered from the site where it had been buried, its tusks are missing. A probe has been launched in this regard," Athagarh DFO Sudarshan Gopinath Jadav said.

The suppression of elephant deaths in a single division has, however, brought under scanner roles of senior officers. In last year and a half, Athagarh division has been helmed by three DFOs and how the spate of deaths and their subsequent suppression escaped their notice has raised the hackles.

The Wildlife Wing has already booked and arrested three watchers and a forest guard under Wildlife Protection Act. Two foresters are absconding. Three range officers have been placed under suspension since November.

However, under pressure to go deep into the whole mess which has exposed complete lack of monitoring and supervision at the division-level, a red-faced Wildlife Wing has asked CCF Dr Manoj Nair to investigate.

Sources said that roles of senior officers of the division will be probed in the series of deaths which were covered up. The cases are believed to have taken place over a period of two years.

"Elephant deaths just cannot be hidden. All this happened in one beat and one section. Two carcasses were found within a few hundred metres of a village. Something is amiss. Make no mistake, exemplary action would be taken," said a senior officer.

Carcass of another tusker exhumed in Athagarh

What is perplexing is STF could get a lead into the issues and yet, the officials at the division-level, who are in charge of the region and have solid information sources, were unaware. Interestingly, although STF has led the expose with help of informers, it has handed over investigation into the cases to Forest department which, effectively, is now probing role of its own staff.

“This could lead to conflict of interest. We have requested Crime Branch to take over the probe for a fair probe. In the past, the Crime Branch had successfully probed into sensational wildlife crimes in the State,” said the senior official.

Meanwhile, Regional Chief Conservator of Forests, Angul Circle, M Yogajayanand said, “All incidents related to elephant deaths in Athagarh division is being thoroughly probed and stringent action will be taken against those found guilty.”

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