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KILLER TRACK

A country that is not particularly caring of its women and children cannot be expected to go overboard with concern for its wildlife. It has always been fairly cavalier about its most remarkable natives — tigers, rhinoceroses and elephants, for example, leaving them prey to poachers and to habitat loss. Indian officialdom is equally cavalier about censuses, a habit resulting in wildly differing figures for tigers, for example. Even the prime minister’s expression of concern does not seem to have improved either the slapdash counting or the tendency to water down reality.

One of the persistent scandals in this sphere is the habit of trains cutting across elephant corridors to kill elephants crossing the lines. Most recently, the Dibrugarh-bound Jhajha Express hit five elephants in the Buxa Tiger Reserve area. Three died immediately and two were — possibly — fatally injured. This line has been especially lethal for elephants; in the worst accident so far, in September, 2010, seven elephants died. On December 30 last year, six elephants were killed by a passenger train in the Rambha forest area in Odisha. There are certain rules train drivers, forest officials and others in charge are supposed to follow wherever the railway track passes through forests and natural reserves. Trains are asked to go slow when the track is close to an animal path. Besides, officials are supposed to let the driver know as soon as there is news of elephant movement near the tracks. It is not so hard, is it? The line that passes through Rajaji National Park in Uttara-khand, earlier one of the most accident-prone stretches, has been innocent of elephant blood since 2002. Joint night patrolling by officials, sensitization workshops for drivers, posters reminding them of elephant crossings in their cabins have changed the fate of animals in that area. The drivers must know they cannot kill elephants even if they are running late. That would be non-negotiable. Else they will be punished. Sensitization, a warning system and sharp disciplining are all necessary. Apparently there are no takers yet.