Bhubaneswar, Jan. 2: The blame game over the death of six elephants by the Coromandel Express in the Berhampur forest division area continues with the railway officials brushing aside the Odisha forest department’s claim that it had apprised them of jumbo movement there.
The Odisha government has claimed that the forest officials of Khallikote range had intimated the concerned railway officials of the presence of an elephant herd in the area through a letter on December 18. But, divisional railway manager of Khurda Road S.K. Mohanty denied the claims. “We are yet to receive any such letter. The forest officials have never intimated us about the presence of elephants in the area beforehand. The railway officials received a call only after the incident had taken place,” said Mohanty, addressing reporters at the East Coast Railway headquarters today.
Mohanty also said the guard deployed at the level-crossing near the accident site during their official inquiry has revealed that the elephants were being driven off by some people. “The guard told the railway officials that elephants were being driven off by using torches. Again the same group of people appeared at the spot after the incident to take away the tusks,” he said.
Mohanty said that though during the co-ordination meeting between Odisha forest officials and their railway counterparts it was decided that walkie-talkie equipped elephant trackers was to pass on information regarding presence of elephant herds, the government would implement the move in March.
On the other hand, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife) J.D. Sharma said there was no reports of theft of elephant tusks. “The tusks were intact after the death of the elephants. As far as the matter of walkie-talkies are concerned, it will take some time,” said Sharma.
The railway officials and the Odisha forest department officials have been conducting meetings to implement general advisories to prevent train accidents involving elephants. There have been three such joint meetings in January, April and August last year.
Sources in the Odisha forest and environment department said some railway stretches of Keonjhar, Angul, Dhenkanal and Berhampur wildlife divisions are vulnerable for elephant accidents.
“The railway officials must ensure minimum speed of the trains at the vulnerable stretches to avoid such accidents, but Coromandel was running at a speed more than 100kmph. If the railways can operate some trains in minimum speed in other areas outside the state, what is the problem to control the speed in Berhampur division which is around 10km,” asked a senior forest official.
Forest minister Bijoyshree Routray said inquiry into the recent elephant death near a railway level-crossing in Ganjam district was on. “We have informed the chief minister, who is going to take up the matter with the railway ministry,” said Routray.