Feb. 3: A joint team of experts from the Union ministry of environment and forests and the railways will visit Dooars on February 19 to inspect the railway tracks between Siliguri Junction and Alipurduar where 51 elephants died in the past 13 years.
The group headed by elephant expert R. Sukumar will see to what extent the recommendations of the joint committee that had visited the region earlier have been implemented to curb elephant deaths in the 168km-long stretch.
“We are expecting a series of recommendations from them that can help in reducing elephant deaths,” forest minister Hiten Barman said today.
In 2009, a joint committee had inspected the tracks between Siliguri Junction and Alipurduar. Some of the recommendations of the team were to build underpasses in areas where elephant movement is frequent, keep at least 500m on both sides of the tracks clear to improve visibility of train drivers and form joint team of forest and railway officials to increase communication.
In 2010, eight elephants died after being hit by a goods train at Moraghata on the stretch. On January 5 this year, five elephants were mowed down by a passenger train at Rajabhatkhawa near Alipurduar.
“The number of elephant deaths since 2000 has reached 51,” said Brijraj Sharma, chief conservator of forests, wildlife, north Bengal).
Barman said in 2009, the expert committee had identified some “high risk and elephant crossing zones”. “We have identified some more such zones like Moraghat, Jaldhaka and Diana rail bridges, Lataguri and Madarihat. We will request the experts to ask the railways to built underpasses in the high-risk zones. A fund of Rs 5 crore had come to us and it has been handed over to the Northeast Frontier Railway for the underpasses,” he said.
“We will also ask them to notify the new areas as crossing zones and instruct railways to maintain speed limits.” The maximum speed limit on the stretch is 40kmph.
NFR officials said they had implemented some of the recommendations. “We have formed a joint team that is keeping tabs on elephant movement in Buxa,” said an official. “Similar arrangements would be made in other areas.”