GUWAHATI, Dec 22 - Days after five elephants were mowed down by a train near Bamgaon Tea Estate at Balipara in Sonitpur district, fresh details on the incident point at failures of multiple line agencies, including the Forest, Railways and the administration.
The Railways had earlier claimed that the spot – ‘Km 135’ between Balipara and Dhalaibeel stations – is not a “known elephant corridor,” and that the nearest such notified corridor is at ‘Km 131’ and ‘Km 144’.
However, a circular issued by the Government earlier, which notified the elephant movement sites, states that a stretch of 20 kilometre on either side of the notified areas “shall be taken as concerned area for tackling the problem of elephants crossing train lines.”
Sources investigating the incident said that while one of the gates of the level crossing near which the incident occurred was broken, it was not sure if the damage was caused by the elephants while moving on to the railway tracks or out. Moreover, there was no Railway gateman at the crossing when the incident happened, it is learnt.
“If there was no gateman, when and how was the gate closed? Did he see the elephants? If yes, why did he not alert the Railway authorities?” the sources questioned.
Investigators are also probing allegations that the Forest officer under whose jurisdiction the area falls had his cell phone switched off and did not monitor the movement of the elephants. Villagers claimed that they tried in vain to reach out to the Forest officer after the herd was spotted.
The Bamgaon Tea Estate management has erected a blade fencing on both sides of the railway tracks. Once the jumbo herd was on the tracks, it could not move on either side. The fencing was around 300 metres long. Virtually, the herd was trapped on the tracks, leading to the death of as many as five jumbos.
While it is not clear if the garden management had erected the fence illegally on the railway tracks, senior Forest officials have now dismantled the fencing. In fact, Forest officials have directed all tea garden managements to remove such fences if they have erected any.
Meanwhile, the Sonitpur district administration has instituted a magisterial inquiry to probe all angles and fix responsibility.