Bhaskar J Barua

Once upon a time, there was a herd of eighteen elephants led by a matriarch aged ten years, who sired five kids, three two-year-olds and two one-year-olds. Surprised? Aghast?

Well, this is not my story. This is a story crafted by the learned experts of the Forest Department who probed the mysterious death of the elephants at Bamuni Hills. Creating an elaborate web of lies to fool the nature-loving citizens of this world, the big four of this illustrious department, led by the minister, published this farce of a report with much fanfare. A ninety-page report prepared to create an illusion of scholarly endeavour, but in reality, contains nothing but an elaborate attempt to cover up a crime of unimaginable proportions.

We explain below why their report is a pack of lies and cover-ups.

The report states that the place of occurrence was at a small flat plateau on the hilltop at an altitude of 790 feet MSL, which translates to 240.79 meters. But the same report says they found seven carcasses above this height (Carcasses 1 to 6 and Carcass 8), ranging from 791.7 feet to 799.9 feet. Are we to assume that the carcasses were floating above the hilltop?

It then goes on to say that the eldest female among the herd was ten years and there were five calves aged between one and two. Are we to assume that she sired five calves? If not, where are the mothers? If lightning killed all the elephants, why and how did the mothers survive? This is ample proof that their so-called investigations were just to placate the public. Their first narrative was that the elephants were cuddled together because of the storm, and that led to their unfortunate death when lightning struck. But then how did the mothers survive? Where are they? Surely a ten-year-old cannot be the mother of five baby elephants.

They say they buried fourteen elephants on the 14th of May. What did they do with the remaining four carcasses?

They also say in the report that they collected water samples from a pond, but provide no clue about the location of this so-called pond, nor is there any photographic evidence to justify their statement.

The meteorological data in the report is an unsigned document with no proof of official communication with the agency that prepared the report. This report states that their lighting location accuracy is approximately one kilometre and that “… it appears that a lightning MIGHT HAVE hit the tree…”

They have prepared some maps of the area, but those maps are also unsigned and there is no official communication to suggest that these are a genuine reflection of their enquiry procedure.

There were repeated appeals to include lightning experts, geophysicists, electrical engineers, elephant experts, representatives of the Crime Branch of Assam Police, Wildlife Institute of India and the Government appointed member of the Project Elephant Steering Committee, along with the veterinarians. Only such a team would have been able to unearth the mystery. Nor did they conduct a soil resistivity test to confirm the occurrence of lightning. All these suggest that there were ulterior motives behind this mass murder of elephants.

The report further states that they could not conduct a detailed post-mortem analysis, because the carcasses were damaged. How can a dead body go bad within 48 hours, as they have stated?

The first effect of lightning would be to shatter the eardrums and rupture the heart and the arteries. But eardrums and heart samples were not collected, because they knew that this was not a case of lightning.

They describe the hill as a degraded forest with a very poor tree canopy but conveniently fail to mention that they have stripped the hill of thousands of teak trees and that the place and its adjoining hills are being mercilessly mined for stones.

Their histopathological study states that their report is a tentative diagnosis. Why were the samples not sent to the Wildlife Institute of India, which is the only equipped laboratory to investigate the wildlife crime samples? They instead sent it to the State Government-owned Forensic Laboratory who is not experienced to investigate the samples.

They state that the entire area is an elephant habitat. If so, how did they allow the construction of the 15 MW Solar Power plant right in the middle of the habitat? Or for that matter, allow a sprawling resort of around 100 acres to come up?

The report states that they found a burn injury on a carcass lying 113 feet away. It is strange that carcasses 1 to4 lying near to the tree where they claimed lightning struck, did not show any burn marks and instead find it in a carcass lying so far.

It is very clear from the above that the department all along tried to mislead the people of Assam by obfuscating the truth and starting a calculative and well-publicised narrative from day one that the elephants died of lightning. While there was a huge public furore for a proper and scientific investigation, the department chose not to pay any heed to all well-meaning citizens of the state. They first tried to hide evidence on the ground by trying to cremate the carcasses by tyres which were luckily thwarted by the conscious citizens of Nagaon. They then brought in sacksful of salt to bury the elephants to ensure that they speed up the decomposition process, and foil all future efforts to re-investigate the crime scene. They did not even mark the burial spots where the elephants were buried. In short, they did everything in their capacity to erase all traces of evidence.  There are more questions than answers in the craftily managed report of theirs.

We demand the dynamic Chief Minister of the State to take cognizance of the matter and take immediate action on the perpetrators of this crime and the forests officials involved in the cover-up.

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