Maharashtra considers solar power supply for electric fences to curb wildlife deaths | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Maharashtra considers solar power supply for electric fences to curb wildlife deaths

1,000-odd villages in the state will get these fences, which will have significantly lower intensity

mumbai Updated: Feb 06, 2018 09:55 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Dozens of elephants, tigers, sloth bears, monkeys and flamingos have been electrocuted in India’s farmlands, plantations, around human settlements near forests, as they come in contact with poorly maintained power lines and electric wires.
Dozens of elephants, tigers, sloth bears, monkeys and flamingos have been electrocuted in India’s farmlands, plantations, around human settlements near forests, as they come in contact with poorly maintained power lines and electric wires. (HT File Photo)

As a solution to prevent the deaths of wild animals coming in contact with electric fences put up illegally by farmers, Maharashtra’s forest department plans to supply low-intensity solar energy at night to 1000-odd villages near forest areas so that fewer animals are killed.

The forest department has consulted the Maharashtra State Electricity Distribution Company Limited (MSEDCL) for powering electric fences and other utilities at a relatively low power so that animal electrocution cases can be controlled. In 2017, Maharashtra recorded 21 tiger deaths, its highest in a decade and the second highest in India. Of these, six tigers were electrocuted either purposely or through accidentally, making it is a serious concern for the forest department. Cases have been reported from Chandrapur, Nagpur, Wardha, and two at Bhramapuri, including the death of iconic tiger Jai’s son Srinivas in Nagbhid range in April.

It was decided at the state wildlife board meeting last week that solar fencing needs to be promoted across protected forest areas, and especially those reporting animal electrocution deaths. These fences are operated using a battery, which can be charged either through grid or solar power. While solar power has significantly lower intensity, the grid supplies uniform high power.

“The idea is to reduce the cost of solar fencing so that farmers can acquire them on a large-scale basis. There will be a minor impact on animals when they come close to such fences with relatively lesser power. During the meeting, it was decided that under the Centre’s Shyama Prasad Mukherji Rurban Mission (SPMRM), farmers will be able to acquire the basic technology at a low cost,” said AK Misra, principal chief conservator of forest, state forest department. “While it is already being implemented at several places in the state, we have decided to make the scope wider for this. The results will be visible later this year when the agriculture season begins.”

As of now, electricity from the grid provides power through the night and sporadically during the day, said other members of the board. “As a part of the new plan, MSEDCL plans to supply electricity in the day, and stored solar energy can be used for all other utilities throughout the night. There will be load shedding on agri-feeders such as pumps, motors, etc. at night,” said Anish Andheria, president, Wildlife Conservation Trust (WCT) and member of the board. “It is a win-win situation for both farmers and animals, as the former will be able to protect his crops and the latter will sustain, if any, only minor injuries on coming in contact with the fences.”

Other wildlife conservationists criticised the idea and said electric fences, which are illegal, should not be allowed at all. “While it is a serious livelihood issue that farmers have been dealing with for centuries now, rather than focusing on any type of fences, the forest department needs to study and document the age-old traditional methods being used by farmers to stop the animals from entering their farms. These methods combined with latest technology can provide ready solutions to the issue. At the same time, the installation cost of solar is high, which needs to be addressed,” said Vidya Athreya, wildlife biologist.

MSEDCL officials said they will begin the process with 300-odd villages close to Nagpur, Chandrapur and Ghadchiroli districts in Vidarbha. “It is always difficult for us to supply electricity in rural areas through the day with big factories and industries using them up. However, under the Mukhyamantri Agricultural Solar Feeder’ scheme, we are now developing clusters of villages, where either through solar or grid, electricity will be channelled during the day,” said PS Patil, joint chief public relations officer, MSEDCL. “Our officers have surveyed over 1,300 villages in Vidarbha district along with the forest department where electricity will now be curtailed during night time to safeguard animals, and provide solar in these locations. The activity has begun and will be done over this year.”

“The process will take time as there is need for acquiring land in these areas to set up solar panels and understand how the electricity needs to be supplied. The entire process will be done as per directions of the state government,” said Sanjeev Kumar, chairperson and managing director, MSEDCL. “We have already taken a number of steps and several others are planned with the forest department to ensure the electrocution of the big cat is reduced and eliminated in the days to come.”