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Naveen missive on jumbo safety

Bhubaneswar, Jan. 16: Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik has urged Union environment and forest minister Jayanti Natrajan to prevail upon the railways to ensure speed restrictions on trains while negotiating elephant reserves, national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

“The railway board should also revisit its advisories and instructions related to prevention of train accidents incolving elephants and to make appropriate amendments thereto in consultation with chief wildlife wardens and other wildlife experts,” said the chief minister in a letter written to Natrajan.

Six elephants were killed after being hit by the speeding Coromondel Express in Ganjam district on December 29 last year.

Pointing out that the accident spot was a known elephant-crossing zone with a cautionary signboard also put up there, Naveen said the accident had occurred because of the train’s high speed. “In fact, the train had crossed three signboards by the time of the accident. This unfortunate tragedy could have been averted had the speed been reduced by the railways,” the chief minister wrote.

The Odisha government, according to the letter, has requested the chairman of the railway board to impose restrictions on the speed of trains at major elephant crossing points with a copy of the communication to the additional director-general (wildlife).

Naveen’s letter assumes significance in view of the ongoing war between the railways and the Odisha government over the issue. Railway authorities have refuted the state government’s claim about having been warned “in time” about the movement of the elephant herd in the area where the accident took place. According to the railways, the warning reached them at the eleventh hour where there was no time left to caution the driver to stop the train.

The accident being one of the biggest wildlife tragedies of Odisha has attracted international attention. However, stray killing of elephants on railway tracks is not uncommon here.