89 jumbos electrocuted in last 10 years in Tamil Nadu, RTI reveals
Experts attribute problem to farmers using illegal DC energisers to power solar fences, blame forest dept for delay in issuing guidelines
CHENNAI: The tragic death of three wild elephants by electrocution in Dharmapuri division on Monday night is just a grim reminder of how deep the problem of illegal electric fences is rooted.
According to the data by Project Elephant Division of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, a whopping number of 89 elephants were killed in the last 10 years due to electrocution in Tamil Nadu. The data was provided by Kolkata-based RTI activist Sagnik Sengupta.
A total of 82 elephants died between the financial years of 2012-13 and 2021-22 in the state. The state forest department told TNIE seven more elephants died during the period of April, 2022 to March 7, 2023. Across India, 630 elephants died due to electrocution in the last decade with Assam topping the list with 120 elephants.
While in Dharmapuri, farm owner Murugesan had blatantly drawn power to his fencing from a live wire killing the three elephants almost instantaneously, farmers are found using ‘illegal’ DC energisers to power their solar fences in most of the other electrocution cases.
As per the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) specification, output from the energiser should be less than or equal to 5 joules so as to ensure the safety of all stakeholders. However, companies blatantly manufacture and sell energisers with an output of 10-20 joules. Wildlife activists have blamed the forest department for the crisis saying the inexplicable delay in framing simple guidelines making it mandatory to use only BIS-compliant solar fence energisers was leading to so many wildlife deaths.
Last month, a Madras HC bench comprising justices N Sathish Kumar and D Bharatha Chakravarthy set an ultimatum of three months to the state government for framing rules for the erection of proper scientific fences. Until such time, the forest department and Tangedco were directed to form joint teams to regularly conduct patrol and inspection in all vulnerable areas especially, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri, Erode, Coimbatore, Nilgiris, Theni and Kanniyakumari, once in a fortnight and ensure that no farmer installs dangerous fences.
Sharing the findings of field study conducted in Coimbatore and Nilgiris region, N Sadiq Ali of Wildlife and Nature Conservation Trust said, “What we found was baffling. Majority of solar fence energisers are violating the BIS norms. Farmers are ignorant and they just want to protect their crops from wild animals. It is under the jurisdiction of the DFOs to ensure lethal energizers are not used for averting elephant deaths. The department must immediately issue the guidelines and enforce them without wasting time any further.”
T Murugavel, the coordinator of Environment Monitoring and Action Initiating (EMAI), said people hailing from other states, who have no concerns for the nature unlike native residents, have purchased land parcels, which are adding to the woes. Murugavel had obtained a favourable order from Madras HC in 2018, which led to the removal of illegal electric fences on the Mothur-Pethikuttai side of Bhavani Sagar Dam in Coimbatore.
“The reason I filed the case was that hundreds of hectares of the banana plantation were owned by outsiders in the water spread area of the dam, which is frequented by elephants,” he said. Speaking to TNIE, Chief Wildlife Warden Srinivas R Reddy said necessary instructions were issued to the DFOs to enhance patrolling.
“The guidelines have been framed and are currently circulated to various departments concerned. Once issued, it will make the use of BIS-compliant solar fence energisers mandatory. However, enforcement will be key. Our field staff may not be technically equipped to detect whether an energiser is BIS compliant or not. We have to implement the rules in coordination with the electricity department.”