| Roy in Cooch Behar. Picture by Himangshu Ranjan Deb
Cooch Behar/Alipurduar, May 30: Bengal forest minister Ananta Roy today blamed the railways for the death of three elephants and a bison in the past 48 hours in Jalpaiguri district.
Roy held a meeting with senior forest officials at the circuit house in Cooch Behar today to discuss the issue of speed limits of trains and the responsibility of the railways.
'I will take up the matter with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Calcutta tomorrow. We are certain that the mishaps were caused because of the high speed of the trains. I had spoken to Bhattacharjee yesterday as well and the chief minister has agreed that we should write a strongly-worded letter to the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR). The chief minister, too, will write to the railway minister,' Roy said.
The new forest minister, who was clear about his stand, said just as trains had the right to ply through forest tracts, wild animals too should be allowed to live in their natural habitat. 'Similarly, we too have the right to protect them as they are part of our national wealth,' he said.
The minister alleged that the railways were disregarding the safety norms while plying the routes that ran through designated wildlife zones. He said he felt very strongly about the deaths of six elephants in north Bengal in the past one week. 'Three were hit by trains, one was electrocuted by an illegally-erected energised fence in the Domahali area, while a tusker died in a fight with another in Jayanti. The sixth died of disease in South Raidak. The animals are an endangered species,' Roy said.
K.C. Gayen, the principal chief conservator of forest, has in the meantime instructed L.G. Lepcha, the field director of Buxa Tiger Reserve, to sit with railway officials and conduct a joint survey of the route passing through the forest tract.
The survey, he said, would help chalk out the precautionary measures that should be adopted to avoid 'this kind of massacre in future'. According to Gayen, the forest department has already conveyed to Arjun Rakshit, the divisional railway manager of the NFR's Alipurduar division, the decision to sit together and work out a plan.
'The spots which are more vulnerable or accident-prone will have to be identified. I have told Lepcha to compile a report on how many wild elephants died in train accidents and where, after the route was converted to a broad gauge.'