Raipur: Wildlife activists in Chhattisgarh have expressed fears over the one-month time limit given to the state government’s investigation team constituted to probe the death of three female elephants on successive days last week.
The activists said the death of all three female elephants within quick succession may not be natural, alleging that this could either be a case of poaching or intentional killing due to human-animal conflict.
The activists added that for a meaningful investigation, the timeframe for the probe must be shortened, or else important evidence might disappear due to monsoon and other factors.
However, the Chhattisgarh Forest Department said the time given to the four-member panel is appropriate as they work on several counts. It added that all evidence will be taken into consideration.
Activists in the state are also preparing to approach the Chhattisgarh High Court over the deaths of elephants in the state.
The latest case came last week when three female elephants were found dead on consecutive days of 9, 10 and 11 June, in the forests of Balrampur and Surajpur districts, which are adjacent to each other.
The first was a 20-month pregnant female elephant, who was found dead on 9 June in the Pratappur forest area of Surajpur. Barely 24 hours later, another female elephant was found dead nearby. The authorities also recovered some pouches of insecticide from near her body.
On 11 June, a third female elephant’s body was found inside the Rajpur forest division of Balrampur. According to the postmortem report, the elephant had probably died six days earlier, and the local authorities had allegedly not informed the higher authorities about this. Action was taken over this.
A day later, Chhattisgarh Forest Minister Mohammad Akbar constituted a panel to investigate the deaths and asked it to submit its report in a month. The committee, led by retired principal chief conservator of forests K.C. Bevarta, is tasked with probing the reasons and circumstances leading to the death of the elephants, lapses at any stage, and determining accountability.
‘Probe may not produce concrete results’
Speaking with ThePrint, wildlife activist and member of NGO Nature Club Mansoor Khan called for reduction in the time allocated to the inquiry panel.
“It does not appear that the ongoing investigation in the case might produce any concrete results. This is because even if the death of these three female elephants is a result of poaching, all the evidence can disappear in a month’s time due to monsoon and other time bound factors,” he said.
“One thing is certain that the death of these elephants is an outcome of human-animal conflict. Female elephants have been killed by poisoning for sure,” he said.
Khan said it can’t be a “mere coincidence” that there wasn’t much distance between the carcasses of the three deceased female elephants.
“Apart from this, the dead bodies of all three female elephants were found inside an area of forest which has no habitat or settlement in the radius of around 2-3 km. Does it not cause serious suspicions?” he asked.
Khan said the female elephants might have mistakenly consumed poison that was intended for the male elephants. He highlighted a poaching case in the area that was registered in November 2019 in Balrampur forest when a male elephant was found dead. Investigation had revealed that both of the elephant’s tusks were uprooted. Eight persons were arrested later and two huge tusks weighing 16 kg each were also recovered, worth around Rs 50 lakh.
Activist Anurag Shukla, another member of the Nature Club, echoed Khan’s concerns as he dismissed the ongoing investigation as eyewash.
“The elephants’ death has occurred due to consumption of poisonous substances. It is clear that they have been poisoned, but there is doubt that anything like this will be found in the government’s investigation,” he said.
“The fact of the matter is that the results of such investigations are predefined to suit the government’s wishes. There is absolutely no need to allocate one month’s time for preparation of report by the inquiry committee, because there is full scope for elimination of evidence during that time,” he said, adding that the NGO is “also conducting a separate investigation at our own level”.
What the government says
Reacting to these demands, Chhattisgarh Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) Arun Kumar Pandey said the probe panel has to work on several counts and this will take time.
“If there is any evidence then it will definitely be considered in the course of investigation. As far as fixing accountability is concerned, action has already been taken against the officials whose efforts were found to be lacking in this case of the elephants’ death and further investigation will continue,” he said.
On 13 June, the government transferred Rajpur Divisional Forest Officer Pranay Mishra. It also suspended Rajpur Sub-Divisional Officer K.S. Khutia, Ranger Anil Singh, Deputy Ranger Rajendra Prasad Tiwari and Forest Guard Bhupendra Singh.
On the suspicion of poisoning, Pandey said the investigation teams from the forest divisions of Rajpur and Pratappur are already visiting several houses in the surrounding villages.
“Chemical substances were recovered from the carcasses of two of the deceased elephants, which raises the suspicion of poisoning. Therefore, our investigative teams and officials are visiting the villagers’ house to know more about the kind of pesticides used by them,” said Pandey.
“These elephants often trespass inside the villages. It may also be possible that these elephants had consumed some insecticide in the villagers’ house,” he added.
Move to approach high court
The activists of the state are preparing to approach the Chhattisgarh High Court over the incidences of elephant deaths.
“According to our information, more than 50 elephants have been killed in Chhattisgarh in the last 20 years. Yet no concrete steps have been taken by the state government to stop it. That is why we will very soon move to the High Court on this issue,” said Shukla.
He added that they will ask the high court to find a solution for conservation of the elephants by establishing dedicated corridors for them.