Setting pigeons among tech cats

In March 2024, I had the opportunity to represent the Government of Odisha at the International Experience sharing conclave on BB-PPDR (Broad Band – Public Protection and Disaster Relief Network) at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi.

Setting pigeons among tech cats

Representation image

In March 2024, I had the opportunity to represent the Government of Odisha at the International Experience sharing conclave on BB-PPDR (Broad Band – Public Protection and Disaster Relief Network) at Vigyan Bhawan, New Delhi. The necessity of such a network, equipped with the latest technology was first felt following the tragic events of 9/11 in the USA. During calamities or large congregations, communication networks often tend to fail. Therefore, disaster relief and law and order agencies need a reliable and secure network. During the discussion, I raised the issue of ‘Solar surge’ and possible solutions for mitigating it.

The experts were doubtful about the efficacy of even the BBPPDR in such an exceptional situation. One of the experts representing Critical Communications, UK, quipped that mankind would have to go back in progress of civilisation. Solar storms, or coronal mass ejections (CMEs), can disrupt electrical grids and communication networks by causing geomagnetically induced currents (GIC). In 1989, solar storms had caused major power grid failure in Quebec and the Toronto Stock Exchange disruption. Research by Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi warns of potential Internet disruptions from solar storms, with a day’s disruption in the U.S. possibly costing over $7 billion.

Abdu Jyothi’s research stresses the importance of preparedness, suggesting a 1.6 to 12 per cent chance of a catastrophic solar storm in the next decade. As per NOAA Forecast, solar activity is expected to peak in 2024 or early 2025, with high risks persisting for several months or years. During the tea break informal discussion, I informed the experts that the Odisha Police has a cocktail of communication services – not only landline phones, mobile phones, VHF/ UHF/ HF, and satellite phones but has also preserved the pigeon services for exigency. All the experts were very appreciative of the traditional Pigeon Service.


Pigeons, renowned for their remarkable homing instinct, have been trusted messengers for centuries. Recognizing the enduring value of these avian couriers, the Odisha Police Force established the Pigeon Service in 1946, weaving together historical inspiration with modern adaptations, thus creating a unique chapter in communication history. The pigeons were last used in the 1999 super cyclone for mail services when all other means of communication were not working.

Pigeons, with their ability to navigate and return home, have been integral to communication throughout history. The use of pigeons in military operations can be traced back to antiquity, with notable instances in various cultures:

Ancient Egypt: Hieroglyphs depict the use of pigeons for royal communication.

Ancient Greece: Pigeons were employed during the Olympic Games to announce the winners.

Genghis Khan: The Mongol ruler established a pigeon post system across his vast empire.

World War I and II: Pigeons played a crucial role in carrying messages across enemy lines when traditional communication methods were compromised.

Post-World War II, the Odisha Police embraced pigeon communication, inaugurating the Pigeon Service in 1946 with surplus pigeons and equipment from army disposals. Initially launched in Koraput, the service expanded to 38 locations, utilizing over 1,500 pigeons across districts, sub-divisions, circles, and police stations.

The Odisha Pigeon Service has had several milestones: Jawaharlal Nehru’s Message (1948): In a historical event, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sent a message via pigeon from Sambalpur to Cuttack, showcasing the success of the Carrier Pigeon Service. The pigeon covered the distance in 5 hours and 20 minutes, reached Cuttack before the motorcade of the PM, impressing Nehru with its efficiency.

International Postal Exhibition (1954 ): Odisha Police Pigeons attracted attention during the exhibition, demonstrating their prowess as messengers.

Flood Emergency (1982): During severe floods in Cuttack District, pigeon mail played a crucial role in communication, aiding authorities in saving lives and property.

TV Series Aisa Bhi Hota Hai (1988): In one of the episodes, the Odisha Pigeon Service was showcased.

Philatelic Exhibition (1989): Pigeons carried messages during a historical postal philatelic exhibition, showcasing their role beyond emergencies.

Millennium Celebration (1989): Pigeons were flown as a symbol of peace during the visit of the Hon’ble President of India.

Documentary Film (2004): The Film Division, Government of India, recorded a documentary on the Pigeon Postal Service, highlighting its significance.

Reuters (June 2023): This news agency portrayed the Odisha Pigeon Service all over the world. The training process for pigeons is a crucial aspect of the Odisha Police Pigeon Service, ensuring their effectiveness in delivering messages. After initial familiarisation training, pigeons undergo route training over important routes. Then the distance is gradually increased. The Odisha Police Pigeon Service operates in three modes, each serving specific communication needs.

The Static Service is a one-way service where pigeons are taken to a particular place and released with a message. They return to their home loft after completing the task. The Boomerang Service is a twoway service where pigeons are trained to go to a particular place, take food, and return to their loft, covering a restricted radius. The Mobile Ser vice is one where pigeons are housed in a trailer attached to a vehicle, facilitating communication between troops and their platoon or company. This mobile service has been successfully introduced in OSAP 6th BN, Cuttack. Presently, the pigeons of Odisha Police are capable of Boomerang and Mobile services. The Odisha Police still retains two Pigeon lofts at CBL Cuttack and PTC Angul out of the 19 used in past. Now we have 102 pigeons housed at CBL Cuttack and 48 at PTC Angul.

The pigeons, now a leaner yet more efficient force, find purpose in various events, including Republic Day/Independence Day celebrations, other National/State-level functions and ceremonial parades. Moreover, the potential for utilizing pigeons in message carrier duties and demonstrations persists, necessitating an adequately trained and committed staff. The Odisha Police Pigeon Service, while adapting to modern communication, retains its historical significance. Balancing tradition and progress, it stands as a testament to the force’s commitment to innovative communication strategies, especially dur ing natural calamities, ensuring the enduring legacy of this unique avian messenger service, which is being retained even at the advent of the BB-PPDR network.

(The writer is an IPS officer.)