Bengal’s rail graveyard of elephants

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By R. BALAJI
  • Published 29.11.13
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New Delhi, Nov. 28: Seventy elephants have died on Bengal’s railway tracks since 1994, all but three of them in north Bengal, the state government has told the Supreme Court.

It has suggested stopping all night trains on the Dooars (Gulma-Alipurduar) line or fixing a 25kmph speed limit as possible solutions, adding that “the railways should act pro-actively”.

According to the state’s affidavit, 57 elephants have died in train hits and 13 of electrocution on the tracks in the past 19 years. Since 2009, the number of elephants killed on Bengal’s railway tracks has been 29.

The affidavit was filed recently after the apex court sought responses from the Union environment and forests ministry, the railways and 11 states on a journalist’s petition alleging official “inaction” in checking elephant deaths on tracks.

Bengal said that 78 per cent of the elephant deaths occurred at night, between 6pm and 6am. It said the single-line New Jalpaiguri-Falakata-Alipurduar route should be converted into a double-line track so that Dooars traffic can be diverted through it.

Pradeep Vyas, additional principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), filed the affidavit, which cited elephant safety measures that the Bengal government had taken or was planning.

It said the chief conservator of forests, wildlife (north), had been asked to prepare a pilot project for habitat development so that elephant herds had access to sufficient water, resting places, fodder and palatable grass at Buxa, Jaldapara and Gorumara.

It also mentioned a state government decision to build watchtowers, to be manned jointly by forest and railway staff. One such tower is to come up at Banerghata and the other at Rajabhatkhawa.

On an expert committee’s advice, two ramps have been built at Chapramari and Jaldapara to facilitate safe movement by the herds.

Shakti Prasad Nayak, a journalist from Odisha, filed the public interest litigation alleging that the unchecked elephant deaths violated constitutional provisions on wildlife protection as well as wildlife, conservation and animal cruelty laws.

On March 4, the bench of Justices K.S. Radhakrishnan and Dipak Misra issued notices to the Centre, railways and the states of Odisha, Bengal, Assam, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Jharkhand.

According to the petition, India is home to 50 to 60 per cent of Asia’s wild elephants but the survival of the species is becoming increasingly difficult as train accidents have been killing 8 to 10 elephants annually.