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Friday, July 2, 2021
Committees formed to study elephant population, deaths exist only on paper
Correspondent : Wilson Thomas
Panels, constituted in 2020, ceased to work after a few online meetings

Two expert committees formed by the Forest Department in July 2020 to study Tamil Nadu’s wild elephant population and the death of pachyderms in the Coimbatore Forest Division are no longer functional.

Members said the committees ceased to work after a few online meetings, and no detailed report was submitted to the Department.

The first committee of seven members was formed on July 2, 2020, to study the death of elephants from January 1, 2017 to July 2, 2020, after the Coimbatore Division reported multiple deaths of wild elephants.

Fifteen elephants had died at the time of the formation of the committee and five more died by the end of 2020.

Sheker Kumar Niraj, then Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), was the chairperson of the committee, which had six other members, including elephant experts Ajay Desai and N. Sivaganesan. It was asked to submit an evaluation report in six months.

A senior official of the Department, who was asked to facilitate the committee, told The Hindu that it did not submit the report.

While Mr. Niraj was transferred from the post to Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest and Special Secretary (Forests), Environment and Forests Department, a key member — Mr. Desai — passed away in November. There was no replacement.

The Department formed a second committee with 11 experts on July 4, 2020, to study the elephant population and its movement in Tamil Nadu from January 1, 2006, to June 30, 2020.

Mr. Niraj was tasked to head the committee, with S. Anand, District Forests Officer, Madurai, being the member-secretary. This committee had all the seven members of the first one, and Mr. Anand and three others as additional members.

The Department had asked the committee to submit a report by December 31, 2020, after looking into the state of the habitats, estimation of the cost of restoring them, the human-wildlife conflict and the measures needed to minimise it and the pattern of births and deaths.

COVID-19 a hindrance

A senior official of the Forest Department said no data were provided by field officials for the study, and COVID-19 had become a hindrance to field visits. A member of both committees said no field work had been undertaken.

S. Yuvaraj, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and head of the Forest Force, and Syed Muzammil Abbas, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, did not comment when contacted.

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