Bhubaneswar/Berhampur, Jan. 5: The death of six elephants near Subalaya railway level crossing in Odisha’s Ganjam district last week could have been averted had the train been running slowly, a central team said today.
“The accident would not have occurred if the Coromandel Express was running at 50kmph,” said additional director general (wildlife) of Union environment and forest ministry S.S. Garbyal, who is heading a two-member fact-finding team.
“We don’t see any reason why the speed of the train cannot be brought down to 50kmph, as it is being done is Uttarakhand and Bengal,” said Garbyal.
Forest officials said the speed of the train at the time of accident was around 110kmph. The team visited the accident spot after holding discussions with the state’s forest and environment minister Bijoyshree Routray and senior departmental officials at the state secretariat.
During the spot visit, the central team questioned local forest officials about the accident and whether railway officials were informed about the movement of the elephant herd.
“I had informed the Railway Control Room at 12.38 am on December 29 after local people informed me about the movement of the elephants,” wildlife range officer P.C. Guru told the team.
Garbyal said they would discuss the matter with railway officials and later submit their report to the Union environment and forests ministry.
Odisha’s forest minister said he had apprised the visiting team as to how the railway authorities had violated the decisions of a September 4, 2009, meeting convened by the Union environment and forest ministry.
The decisions included a speed limit on trains passing through vulnerable areas, putting up of signages and cleaning of bushes on both sides of railway tracks, he said.
“Had the central guidelines been followed, the accident would not have taken place,” Routray said, adding that he had also apprised the team of the measures taken by the state government for elephant conservation.
Soon after the incident, officials of the state forest department and East Coast Railway indulged in a blame game.
While the forest officials claimed that the railway authorities were informed about the movement of elephants well in advance, senior railway officials refuted the claim.
The state government had claimed that the forest officials of Khallikote range had intimated the railway officials concerned about the presence of an elephant herd in the area through an official letter on December 18.
However, Khurda Road divisional railway manager S.K. Mohanty denied this.
“We have not received any letter. The railway officials received a call only after the incident took place,” said Mohanty. The Wildlife Society of Odisha has urged the central government to constitute an expert committee to inquire into all the three incidents in which 12 elephants were killed by speeding trains over the past one year.