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6 elephants dead in 9 days in Chhattisgarh, central team delays visit over quarantine fear

According to sources, a team of Centre's Wildlife Crime Control Bureau is avoiding a visit to investigate the deaths out of fears of being quarantined in view of Covid-19.

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Raipur: The Chhattisgarh government is facing charges of negligence after the death of six elephants in the state within a span of nine days.

According to wildlife activists in the state, the forest department could have saved the lives of three elephants – including a baby and a male and female each – killed after 11 June if timely action had been taken in the case of the death of the first three elephants.

Meanwhile, sources said a team of Union government’s Wildlife Crime Control Bureau (WCCB) is avoiding a visit to Chhattisgarh to investigate the deaths out of fears of being quarantined in view of Covid-19.

The bureau compulsorily sends teams to investigate wildlife crimes.

The first of these elephants died on 9 June, followed by two more on consecutive days on 10 and 11 June – the first two in the Surajpur district and the third one in Balrampur. The quick succession in which the cases came prompted the activists to call for a detailed investigation, alleging human-wildlife conflict.

While the government constituted a panel to probe and took action against some officials, a fourth elephant died on 14 June after being trapped in a swamp in the Dhamtari district. On 16 June, a female elephant died due to electrocution in Raigad district. A male elephant also died in the same area on 17 June.

The activists, who work for the preservation of forest and wildlife in the state, said the unimpeded spree of elephant deaths all across the state shows not just the forest department’s inability but also its negligence.

Earlier, they had questioned the one-month time limit given to the government panel for the submission of its investigation report.

However, the officials in the forest department have said that the exercise of tracking elephant herds all across Chhattisgarh has started.

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WCCB visit issue

According to Chhattisgarh forest department officials, WCCB hasn’t been able to send its investigation team yet to probe the deaths of the six elephants.

The bureau’s team does not want to come for investigation of elephants’ deaths as they are scared of being quarantined, the officials from the forest department said on condition of anonymity, adding that WCCB doesn’t delay its investigations to this extent usually.

“In this regard we had talked with the officials of the WCCB’s regional office in Jabalpur. But they fear that they will be quarantined for 14 days due to interstate travel. This is the reason why WCCB has not been able to send a team so far,” said a senior official who didn’t wish to be named.

The official added that the WCCB’s apprehensions increased when a district magistrate in the Saraguja division, where the first three elephants died, confirmed the quarantine procedure.

When the forest department informed the collector’s office that the WCCB team wants to come for an inquiry regarding deaths of elephants, the collector made it clear that at first they are required to stay in quarantine for 14 days, the official said.

“When we tried to confirm it again with the officials of the WCCB, they said that so far no final decision has been taken in this regard,” he added.

Abhijit Roy Chowdhury, WCCB’s regional deputy director in Jabalpur, said, “Right now coordination with state government officials is going on, but no final decision has been taken by the bureau to send its investigation team. Officials from the state’s forest department will be able to reveal more in this regard. They have formed their own investigation team.”

‘Human-wildlife tussle’

Speaking to ThePrint, wildlife expert Gautam Bandopadhyay said, “It is clear to all as to why these elephants have been killed. Every one of us can see that this is a direct outcome of the ongoing human-wildlife tussle in the state.”

He said officials in the forest department are still not taking proper steps on time. “Gross negligence of government and its officials is clearly visible in case of these elephant deaths… This shows insensitivity as well as a huge strategic lapse by the state government towards protection of wildlife,” he said.

Anurag Shukla of the Nature Club, which works towards the protection of the pachyderms, is preparing to approach the Chhattisgarh High Court on the issue of elephant deaths. “When the officials already knew that elephants were being killed, then why did they not take timely action?” asked Shukla.

“The forest department should have initiated active tracking after the death of first elephant on 9 June, but why was it not done? Death of six elephants within 10 days is a result of gross carelessness by the officials. If they had managed to stop the elephants from straying outside the forest area then none of them would have died,” he added.

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