Odisha Implements Extensive Palm Tree Planting to Combat Lightning Deaths

Odisha Implements Extensive Palm Tree Planting to Combat Lightning Deaths

Odisha, one of India’s states severely affected by lightning strikes, has implemented measures to reduce casualties during the pre-monsoon and monsoon periods. These measures include restricting the cutting of palm trees and planting approximately 1.9 million new palm trees.

Palm Tree Protection and Plantation

The state has mandated that permission must be obtained from the forest department to cut palm trees on private land. Debidutta Biswal, Odisha’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, emphasized strict action against violators of this order on July 1, 2024.

Palm trees are known to act as natural conductors during lightning strikes, thereby helping to prevent loss of lives. In September 2023, the government decided to undertake extensive planting of palm trees and to protect existing ones. Special Relief Commissioner (SRC) Satyabrata Sahu highlighted the importance of large-scale palm tree plantations in reserve forests and other vulnerable districts during an inter-departmental meeting on disaster-resilient projects under the Disaster Mitigation Fund.

Implementation Details

The forest department will plant around 1.9 million palm trees across the state in 2024-25, with four palm trees planted near the boundary of each forest block. This initiative will cost approximately Rs 7 crore.

Historical Context and Rationale

Initially, the restriction on felling palm trees was imposed under the Odisha Timber and Other Forest Produce Transit Rule but was later withdrawn due to public demands. This led to the near extinction of palm trees in rural areas. The government has reinstated the restriction due to the increasing number of deaths from lightning strikes, particularly during the southwest and northeast monsoon seasons.

Expert Opinions

  • Jitsatru Mohanty, a senior retired forest officer, welcomed the government’s move to mitigate lightning deaths naturally by restricting the chopping down of existing palm trees.
  • Manoranjan Mishra, a professor in the Department of Geography at FM University, Balasore, questioned the global scientific acceptance of this approach and pointed out the long time required for palm trees to mature. He also noted the high lightning fatalities in Bangladesh despite similar initiatives.
  • Sudhir Rout, director of Aryabhatta Foundation, supported the belief that tall trees like palms can absorb lightning, reducing deaths in areas where such trees exist.
  • P Sundar Narayan Patra, a retired professor of botany and president of the Odisha Environment Society, suggested that any tall trees, not just palm trees, could help absorb lightning. He recommended re-imposing restrictions on cutting all tall trees to minimize deaths due to lightning strikes.

Statistics and Impact

From 2018-19 to 2022-23, Odisha reported an average of 300 lightning deaths annually, totaling 2,058 deaths in five years. During this period, 16,372 people died due to various natural calamities. Lightning strikes claim nearly 2,500 human lives annually in India. The primary victims are farmers, cattle herders, fishers, forest dwellers, and laborers working outdoors.

Financial Support

Since 2015, lightning has been declared a state-specific disaster in Odisha. The state government provides an ex-gratia payment of Rs 4 lakh to the families of those deceased due to lightning strikes.

Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs):

  1. What is the primary purpose of Odisha’s initiative to plant 1.9 million palm trees?
    • A. To improve the state’s aesthetic appeal
    • B. To increase palm oil production
    • C. To reduce casualties from lightning strikes
    • D. To promote tourism
    Answer: C. To reduce casualties from lightning strikes
  2. Who must grant permission to cut palm trees on private land in Odisha?
    • A. The local government
    • B. The forest department
    • C. The Special Relief Commissioner
    • D. The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests
    Answer: B. The forest department
  3. What amount is being spent on the palm tree plantation project in Odisha for 2024-25?
    • A. Rs 5 crore
    • B. Rs 7 crore
    • C. Rs 10 crore
    • D. Rs 15 crore
    Answer: B. Rs 7 crore
  4. How long does it take for a palm tree to become fully grown and effectively observe lightning, according to Manoranjan Mishra?
    • A. 10 years
    • B. 15 years
    • C. 20 years
    • D. 25 years
    Answer: C. 20 years
  5. What ex-gratia payment does the Odisha government provide to families of lightning strike victims?
    • A. Rs 2 lakh
    • B. Rs 3 lakh
    • C. Rs 4 lakh
    • D. Rs 5 lakh
    Answer: C. Rs 4 lakh