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Tusker does a Salman on tracks

Hundreds of passengers had a close shave early on Wednesday morning when a 32-year-old tusker broke the drop-gate to cross tracks in Chakulia, missing Delhi-bound Purushottam Superfast Express by barely three seconds in a scene scarily reminiscent of Salman Khan’s train sequence in the movie Kick.

As time for Purushottam neared, railway authorities dropped the barrier at the Chakulia railway level-crossing in Ghatshila subdivision, some 90km from Jamshedpur, to prevent people from crossing tracks. What no one had reckoned was that the tusker, a resident of nearby Sunsunia jungles who had gone to Midnapore for a visit, had made up his mind to return home at that point.

As morning bystanders watched with horror, the elephant broke through the barrier and crossed the tracks at 5.10am, seconds before the Purushottam whizzed by at 120kmph.

“It was scary to see the elephant cross tracks. The speeding train was two-three feet away from the animal. It was a touch-and-go affair,” said eyewitness Nandlal Dev, standing near the level crossing.

“A major train mishap was averted,” admitted a railway official at Chakulia station, which falls under Kharagpur railway division, South Eastern Railway (SER). “The tusker crossed tracks just when Purushottam was speeding from Kharagpur towards Tatanagar. A few seconds here and there, and the superfast train would have rammed the tusker and got derailed itself, injuring and killing hundreds. The tusker, an endangered species, also would have died.”

The broken barrier was repaired and reinstalled by railway authorities after 10.30am, he said. “Till then, jawans of Railway Protection Force and local police managed the crowd at the level crossing,” the railway official said.

Dhalbhum divisional forest officer Karma Bhutia confirmed the tusker broke the level-crossing barrier. “We know the tusker. He stays at Sunsunia jungles in Chakulia and frequently crosses tracks to reach Midnapore jungles in Bengal and back. This morning, he was returning from Midnapore,” Bhutia said.

He added that the adult tusker stays away from the herd at Sunsunia jungles. “He had been injured in a fight with another tusker last year. Territorial fights between adult tuskers are not infrequent, though most stay away from the herd and return for mating purposes only,” he said.

Conceding that the tusker’s stroll would have caused a major train mishap, Bhutia clarified the animal was neither aggressive nor a rogue. “He has never harmed human habitats while frequenting between jungles of Sunsunia and Midnapore. We keep track of every wild elephant residing in Dhalbhum forest division,” he said.

Last year, the Supreme Court asked the Centre and four states, including Jharkhand, on steps taken to prevent elephant deaths on tracks following a PIL where the petitioner said it was unfortunate that the animal, a mascot of Indian Railways, met with fatal train collisions due to lack of vigil.

Reducing speed of trains in and around elephant habitats or corridors, fitting them with infrared cameras to enable drivers detect movement of the animals and deployment of trackers were some measures the petitioner had suggested.


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