GUWAHATI, Oct 2 - The tragic death of two female elephants aged about five years and 15 years after they were hit by the Dibrugarh-bound Rajdhani Express near Khatkati in Karbi Anglong district has once again put the spotlight on train-induced elephant fatalities.The unfortunate accident took place within the area limits of an identified animal corridor between Karbi Anglong hills and Nagaland, where an elephant herd was trying to cross the tracks on Monday midnight.
Conservationists have voiced serious concern over the latest elephant death on railway tracks, and said that it was largely the insensitivity of the Railway authorities and the inefficiency of the Forest department that such avoidable tragedies had been recurring.
The Supreme Court, while entitling elephants as ‘National Wildlife Wealth’, has repeatedly been expressing serious concern over the accidental killing of wild elephants by speeding trains. The apex court had in December 2013 directed the Union Railway Ministry to slow down all trains when they travel on tracks that pass through reserve forests. The bench also made it clear that the reduced speed limit had to be observed scrupulously, failing which erring drivers and officials would face appropriate action.
Admitting that the accident pointed to a gap in coordination between the Forest department and the Railways, a Forest official said that following a number of train-induced elephant deaths a few years back, the Forest department, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and Northeast Frontier Railway had made arrangements for intensified vigil along forested tracks, with 16 areas of the State having elephant corridors identified for the purpose.
“It’s a fact that train-induced elephant fatalities have come down in the past three-four years. But more needs to be done to ensure that the incidence is minimised, and if possible, eliminated altogether,” he added.
Conservation body Aaranyak, while expressing its “deep concern about the cruel massacre of the two elephants,” said that trains pay scant regard to the norm of minimising the speed of trains along the stretches notified as elephant corridors.
Calling for a no-tolerance attitude towards such avoidable accidents caused by speeding trains in identified elephant corridors, Aaranyak also appealed to Rajen Gohain, Union Minister of State for Railways, to minutely investigate the accident, and initiate sincere efforts to avoid such accidents resulting in loss of the innocent lives of wild elephants.
“The press statement released by the NF Railways states that the train was running well within its speed limit while in the stretch – of 100 kmph. However, it is also learnt from the residents of the area that until last year, even Rajdhani Express along with other trains, had followed a speed of 50 km per hour in the 800-metre-long elephant corridor near Khatkati area of Karbi Anglong. Naturally, a question arises here – what was the urgency for increasing the speed limit by twice the earlier and usual speed,” Udayan Borthakur, publicity secretary, Aaranyak, said.