Odisha has a Police Pigeon Service, the Only One of Its Kind In the World!
There are several traditions from around the world that may appear a little strange, but to many, they are part of their history and heritage. Especially in India, an incredibly diverse country that has a plethora of peculiar customs.
One of these little-known customs and its unusual heritage was just celebrated by Indian National Trust for Arts and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) — that of the Odisha Police Pigeon Service, the only one of its kind in the world!
The Odisha Police Pigeon Service was started in 1946 when 200 pigeons were handed over to the state’s police personnel by the army on an experimental basis to communicate in remote areas with no wireless or telephone links. The messages, written on a piece of paper, were rolled and inserted into tiny plastic capsules and tied to the feet of the pigeons.
Interestingly, on April 13, 1948, the then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sent a message to state officials in Cuttack from Sambalpur through a pigeon. The short message read: “The arrangements for the public meeting should not be such as to separate the speaker from the audience in Cuttack.”
First started in the mountainous Koraput district, this ancient system of sending missives was later introduced in all districts. Soon after, the Police Pigeon Service’s headquarters was established in Cuttack where a breeding centre for Belgian Homer pigeons was set up.
A sturdy species that is different from traditional pigeons, Belgian Homer pigeons can fly 25 km in just 15-25 minutes and live up to 20 years, Depending on the weather, they can also fly up to 500 miles at a stretch with a speed of 55 km per hour.
With their training beginning from when they are six weeks old, these birds mark the spots to identify their routes. Once trained, their accuracy in route mapping remains intact for decades. The winged messengers also bond with the constables who handle them and can recognise them from their voice.
As such, with time, these dependable birds have become a vital link between remote police stations when traditional communications failed during disasters. In fact, during the catastrophic flood of 1982, the Police Pigeon Service served as the only line of communication to the marooned town of Banki.
The pigeons also played a pivotal role during the 1999 Super Cyclone and the ensuing floods when the disruption of radio networks led to a collapse of almost all lines of communication. Interestingly, official sources also say that the intelligent pigeons have helped the police department outsmart and nab many crooks on the run.
With the advent of modern communication tools and newer technologies, the heritage courier service of Odisha Police was abandoned for years. However, the pigeons continued to make a ceremonial appearance during different functions in the state till last year.
Currently, there are about 95 police pigeons in Cuttack and 50 in Angul for display purpose with four constables and one sub-inspector ranked officer engaged for their upkeep.
It was with the idea of celebrating this unique tradition that Odisha Police partnered with INTACH to organise ‘Heritage Pigeon Flight’ on the occasion of Odiya New Year (Maha Vishuva Sankranti). For the event, 24 pigeons of Odisha Police carrying missives of heritage conservation were flown from Bhubhaneshwar to Cuttack – a distance of 25 kilometres.