Needed a scientific probe into the death of 18 wild Asiatic elephants on Bamunipahar

Elephant Deaths

Many questions still remain unanswered by Assam forest department over the mysterious deaths of 18 wild Asiatic elephants on Bamunipahar in Nagaon locality on 12 May (as the authority claimed) because the final report rested on the assumption (not scientific analysis) that the bulky animals died due to electrocution by a major thunderbolt.

Analysing many loopholes in the investigation report, which was prepared by a government formed committee and released by State forest minister Parimal Suklabaidya during a formal press conference on 3 June in Guwahati, environment enthusiasts insisted on a high level scientific probe into the incident to unearth the real cause of those jumbos’ shocking bereavements.

Nature’s Beckon, an influential conservation group of northeast India, has lately urged State chief minister Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma to initiate a proper investigation into the matter. Its director Soumyadeep Datta, while expressing serious doubts over the probing process, emphasized on involving experts from the fields of Geology, Electrical Engineering, Science of Lightning (Thundering) along with Zoological Survey of India, Wildlife Institute of India, Policedepartment in the probe committee.

Mentioning about the 90 pages investigation report, released after repeated demands from various organisations and environment enthusiasts, Datta termed it as ‘full of misinformation with a pile of unnecessary details added to make the document appears credible’. Moreover, the investigation process involved only veterinarians, who are directly or indirectly related to the forest department and all the tests were conducted in their own laboratories keeping no space for independent test-centers.

Minister Suklabaidya, form the very beginning, continues asserting that all the jumbos on Bamunipahar under Kundalini reserve forest in Nagaon district died of a massive thunderbolt. For the obvious reason, the departmental enquiry involved only two elephants for necessary dissections keeping as many as 16 animals out of any forensic examinations, claimed Nature’s Beckon’s director Soumyadeep Datta. To prove that all the elephants died because of the electrocution by lightning, the ear-drums of the victims should have been examined.

Moreover, the sensitive organ (to thunderbolt impact) like heart (of every elephant) was not thoroughly investigated. The committee mentioned that samples were collected randomly, but did not specify any carcass, which is nothing but an attempt to hide important evidences, asserted conservationist Bhaskar J Barua. Barua, who is an engineering graduate and a member of Nature’s Beckon, asserted that the forest department’s report was ‘based on assumptions with no scientific analysis’. Nowhere does it say that lightning killed the elephants. Rather they assumed that lightning was the main culprit, said Barua adding that the leaked histopathology report also hinted for a tentative diagnosis of high voltage electrocution that killed the jumbos.

The single page histopathology report that started circulating since 24 May even inspired many so-called experts to conclude that the jumbos were killed by a thunderbolt. Signed by professor SM Tamuli, Pathology department head and Pathology assistant professor A Deka (from College of Veterinary Science, Assam Agricultural University), the report came to the conclusion as a tentative diagnosis that lesions were suggestive of ‘high voltage electrical burn injury’.

Soon after the news broke on 13 May through various media outlets, sensations prevailed among the common people. Elephants are adored as a symbol of Lord Ganesh (also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka), the most worshipped son of Devi Parvati and Shiva Mahadev in Hindu mythology and many devotees of the neighborhood arrived at the remote location to pay their last respects to the dead. Later the elephants were buried with flower at the same place as the customary ritual.

The issue got public attention with a sharp statement from All Assam Engineer’s Association (AAEA), where it described the lightning argument as absurd. The forum of electrical, electronics, mechanical, etc, engineering graduates asserted that if, at all, such a massive thunderbolt had stricken on Earth that night to kill the giant animals within a second, then gloomy days are ahead of the wildlife and human

The engineer’s forum argued that even the victim animals were assumed to be very close to each other during the incident (to get electrocuted at a time), their carcasses should have been found together, but in reality it was found that their bodies were seen scattered by around 100 meter. On the other hand, if the animals faced the thunderstrike as they were found lying on the ground, it needed a massive strike covering over a thousand square-meter area on the hillock.

Datta also had a pertinent question to ask, if the Bamunipahar area was an elephant habitat and a known animal corridor (as mentioned in the released report), how the forest department could provide a no-objection certificate to a giant solar power project coming up in the locality. Moreover, he added, a group of local youths urged the minister during his visit to the site to check the matter seriously, but why he did not pay attentions to them!

The solar power plant with the capacity of around 15 megaWatt at the foothills of Karbi Pahar recently received media’s low-key responses even after hundreds of marginal farmers in Mikir Bamuni grant village (under Samaguri revenue circle in Nagaon) continued protesting against the Azure Power Forty Private Limited, which allegedly grabbed their fertile land, cultivated by them for generations, for the project.

For over a year, a group of Karbi and Adivasi villagers are fighting for their land rights and many of the protesters were even put behind the bars by the administration. The 400-million-dollar company claimed it bought the land from the erstwhile landlord’s (zamindar) family in August 2020. When India was facing the severe Covid-19 pandemic, the company also took possession of the land under police protections. Now the matter has reached Gauhati High Court, where the highest court in the State on 1 March ordered status quo on the matter. Now the construction works of the power plant, put up in a campus of over 276 bighas of land by the company (claimed by the Saket-New Delhi based corporate office to be a dedicated solar power company with a journey spanning over a decade), has been ceased.

Nava Thakuria is a journalist



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