“I don’t believe this, I’ve just done a post for elephants killed on rail tracks, then I find this one! Obviously this is an urgent matter which must be addressed asap; before any more are killed. I still think prosecuting the train drivers who kill or injure elephants by going too fast… would make them slow down! (Note this says it was 6 elephants killed, where as the previous post said it was 5, unless they are counting the pregnant female as one?!””
The spree of killing of the national heritage animal, elephants, on railway tracks continues unabated. A week ago, six jumbos were mowed down by a speeding train in Odisha and four others met a similar fate in West Bengal’s Buxa Tiger Reserve on Saturday night. The respective forest departments and the railways have now indulged in blame game.
The Director of Project Elephant, Environment Ministry, AM Singh, has claimed that the accidents took place as in both the cases the trains were moving at a high speed. The drivers obviously took no note of the signs along the tracks stating that it was an elephant crossing zone.
At a recent visit to Odisha, Singh gave four major suggestions to the local forest and railway officials.
- lowering of speed,
- clearing all vegetation around at least 30 metres of area on either side of the track,
- installation of high beam lights near the signs for better visibility
- mandatory hooting by trains crossing a vulnerable stretch.
While four elephants were killed and two calves seriously injured by the speeding Gauhati–bound Jhaja Express in the Buxa Tiger Reserve on Saturday night, six elephants were mowed down by the Super-fast Coromandel Express in Odisha’s Ganjam district last week.
“In both the cases, the trains were passing at a speed of about 110-120 km/hour,” said Singh. Talking to The Pioneer, he pointed out that when signs had been put along the track, there was no justification for drivers to cross the prescribed 50 kmph limit.
He further pointed out that the vulnerable tracks across the 1,800-km stretch of Chennai-Howrah route is less than 10 km in length, and lowering the speed of the train can delay the train maximum by eight minutes. “What the hell is 8 minutes of anyone’s time when it comes to the life of an elephant??”
The issue would be taken up at the Railway Ministry level, informed Singh. He regretted that the decisions taken at high-level meetings between the Environment Ministry and the Railway Ministry in September 4, 2009, had not been followed.
SK Mohanty, Divisional Railway Manager of Khurdha Division under East Coast Railway Division, however, claimed that that four of the six points of the advisory have been carried out. These include erecting sign boards, having a sensitisation programme for railway personnel, clearing vegetation on both sides of the railway track. He said that the only thing which was yet to be done was the construction of underpasses.
He alleged that lapses are on the part of the forest department to engage trackers, who could inform the railway control rooms about the presence of elephant herds. The alert was to be for two hours and should relate to a section of two km only.
Chief Wildlife Warden, Odisha, JD Sharma, however, said, “We had informed the railways in advance that elephants might cross the track around midnight. Timely action could have averted the accident.” He also said that it is not practically possible to predict the movements of elephants so much in advance.
While the forest department and the Railways are hurling accusations at each other, experts have questioned the failure of the forest department to regularly track and monitor train movements in such pre-identified sensitive areas.
Biswajit Mohanty, member, National Board For Wildlife, too questioned the wildlife department “on its failure to book cases against the DRM, Khurda Division, for the death of a Schedule I species by a train run under his direct control and supervision.
“By merely booking a prosecution against the driver of Coromandal Superfast Express, the department has not discharged its duty of taking required legal action against the Railways,” he added.
Commenting on the situation, RP Saini, field director, Buxa Tiger Reserve, said, “We will lodge an FIR against the railways, but nothing will come of it.” According to him, if one genuinely wants to save the elephants, movement of trains on this track after sunset has to be stopped with immediate effect.