The death of elephants due to electrocution has been a cause for worry in the State for some years now owing to the sagging electric lines in the vulnerable areas of the State, more so in the areas identified as elephant corridors. The Forest Department, in association with the electricity supply companies (ESCOMS) in the State, has initiated a process to identify the dangling electric powerlines and take steps to raise them or replace them.

Accordingly, the work is being done in the districts falling under the purview of Chamundeshwari Electricity Supply Corporation (CESC), BESCOM, HESCOM and MESCOM. Works had started some four months ago and good progress has been made to raise the level of the lines to 20 ft. above the ground level. In the last five years, as many as 79 cases of elephant electrocution has been reported in the State.

The deaths also included cases of electrocution of the elephants when they came in contact with the fences illegally electrified by the farmers in their fields by drawing power from the passing electric lines. A total of 19 elephants died in 2008-09, 22 in 2009-10, 13 in 2010-11, 15 in 2011-12 and 10 so far in 2012-13, according to Ajai Mishra, Field Director, Project Elephant, Mysore.

As per the guidelines for linear infrastructure intrusions in natural areas pertaining to roads and powerlines, the National Board for Wildlife (NBW), Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, stipulates that ‘to prevent electrocution deaths of Asian elephants, the height above the ground at the lowest point of the lowest conductor or grounding wires (at the maximum sag point) of powerlines, whether insulted or bare, passing through all natural areas with known presence or movement of Asian elephants, shall be a minimum of 20 ft. (6.6 metres) above the ground on level terrain (less than 20 degrees) and a minimum of 30 feet (9.1 metres) above the ground on steeper terrain (slope of more than 20 degrees).’

The guidelines further suggested that for powerlines passing through natural areas, additional safeguards such as removing earth wires and modifying earthing methods, and modifying line, pole, and tower design and placement should be carried out with a view to minimise the visual (aesthetic) and ecological impact and wildlife mortalities. Installing underground cables is preferred to overhead cables, especially in sensitive areas. Conspicuous marking of lines, poles and towers should be done as well.

The Central Electricity Authority (CEA) too has laid down certain guidelines for laying transmission and distribution lines of 11 kV and 33 kV voltage grade in areas critical from the point of view of saving wildlife, Mr. Mishra stated. The guidelines were framed based on the pilot project report on the Rajaji National Park for protection of wildlife from electrocution. Accordingly, suitable spikes should be provided on 400 volts, 11kV and 33kV poles at the height of four ft. and seven ft. to ward off animals coming close to the poles and damaging them by rubbing their bodies against them, particularly elephants.

The concerned electricity department should undertake rigorous exercise to inspect the lines so as to ensure that mandatory ground clearances are not violated. If the electricity department had adhered to this condition, the lives of many elephants in the wild could have been saved.

Lines should be inspected at least once a year by the electricity department officials and corrective actions taken in case of faults. Maintenance of the ground clearance and periodical inspection should be certified by an officer not below the rank of Executive Engineer, it states. The role of the ESCOMS assume significance in this regard. The role of CESC also becomes vital since majority of the deaths have taken place in the Mysore Elephant Reserve.

CESC works in progress

The CESC team has taken steps to survey the high tension (HT) and low tension (LT) lines in the elephant corridor coming under its jurisdiction in the five districts of Mysore, Mandya, Chamarajanagar, Hassan and Kodagu. In the 16 sub-divisions come under it covering all five districts, the total length of the elephant corridor containing HT lines measured 437.2 km. and the total length of LT lines measured 439.7 km., B. Bhagya Naik, Director (Technical), CESC, told The Hindu . Some of the lines were more than 40 years old. For instance, at a certain spot close to the bridge across the Cauvery near Napoklu town in Madikeri taluk of Kodagu district, one could still find electric lines marked as MSEB (erstwhile Mysore State Electricity Board). Mr. Naik says that old lines would be replaced. In the Balle Elephant Camp area, new power lines were being drawn and the works would be over by January next, he said.

Of the total HT and LT lines, a length of 337.8 km in the HT category and 332.3 km in the LT category existing in the elephant corridors were surveyed for raising their level or replacing them, Mr. Naik said. Over the last three months, 103 km in the HT and 89.1 km in the LT categories had been rectified. As many as 1,301 poles have been planted in the process after identifying loose spans to reduce the distance between one pole and the other to avoid sagging, Mr. Naik stated. Gundlupet sub-division has the longest length of HT and LT lines measuring 62 and 110 km respectively. Kushalnagar has 40 and 29 km, Alur 42 and 32 km, and Somwarpet 24 and 60 km length respectively under HT and LT categories.

Mobile squads

The CESC has also constituted as many as 14 mobile vigilance squads in September, 2012, following the directive of the Karnataka High Court to conduct night inspections and patrolling in the elephant corridors to contain and prevent unauthorised electrification of fences by the farmers, Mr. Naik said. Accordingly, six such squads have been constituted in Chamarajanagar and four each in Mysore and Kodagu divisions. The team members in each of the squad would be the Assistant Executive Engineer of the CESC, Range Forest Officer, Section officers, Assistant Engineer (CESC) and the camp lineman concerned.

Mobile vigilance squads have booked as many as six cases against farmers for drawing power from the transmission lines illegally, resulting in the deaths of elephants, since the formation of the squads. Four cases were reported from Chamarajanagar and two from Mysore till December 5, 2012, Mr. Naik stated. The team members were also attending gram sabha meetings and apprising the residents of the villages not to draw illegal power lines that could result in the deaths of the elephants. Handbills were also being distributed among them. The literacy programme becomes significant as it could help people to learn to manage the pachyderms and peacefully co-exist.

K. Jeevan Chinnappa

The height of powerlines is being increased in the elephant corridor, and earthing methods are being modified