Elephant death on tracks bares apathy

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  • Published 2.08.13

Dhanbad/Ranchi, Aug. 1: A Delhi-bound Duronto Express mowed down an adult female elephant last night between Gomoh and Matari, 35km from Dhanbad district headquarters, making it the first recorded death of the protected mammal on tracks here and baring utter lack of coordination between forest and railway officials.

Around 10.12pm yesterday, a herd of 14 elephants, including four calves, was crossing the tracks when Duronto Express (12259, Up), speeding from Sealdah, hit the last mammal near pole No. 294/01 at Mohanpur village, Topchanchi.

The impact threw the elephant into a ditch, where she died, and damaged the train’s engine. The train was slowly guided to Gomoh where its engine was replaced at 10.40pm.

Duronto Express finally left for Delhi at 11.50pm.

The herd went on the rampage for three hours and damaged overhead wires. Finally, railway technicians used crackers to chase them off tracks and start maintenance work.

Later, a district forest department team led by Topchanchi ranger Gorakh Nath Yadav shooed the herd towards Srirampur forests.

In a spiral effect of delays, up trains such as Ganga Damodar Express, Kalka Mail Express and Chambal Express halted at Dhanbad station for over two hours. Tracks were ready by 2.30am today.

Around 9am today, a team led by district forest officer Satish Rai and vet Gopal Gupta recovered the carcass, carried out its autopsy and cremated it.

Topchanchi ranger Gorakh Nath Yadav said the herd, which came from Chadri forests in Bokaro, had been safely steered towards Srirampur forests in Topchanchi, 8km away.

The incident is a wake-up call for both state forest department and railway divisions.

There was no night tracker deputed by the forest department to coordinate with railways. The forest department didn’t coordinate with railways for precautionary steps.

When The Telegraph contacted principal chief conservator of forests (chief wildlife warden) A.K. Mishra, he admitted departmental flaws.

“We don’t have 24/7 tracking. Forest officials need orientation to tackle cases. Ideally, when the herd exited Bokaro, forest officials should have alerted Dhanbad, who should have monitored it to safety. Railways should have been kept in the loop. I have asked for a report,” said Mishra.

A meeting today of railway officers chaired by Sudhir Kumar, DRM of Dhanbad, also stressed on better coordination between railways, forest department and state government.

“This is the first such tragedy in our division. We will seek to coordinate with forest officials so that we know about the movement of elephants in advance. We don’t want to risk either the lives of elephants or our passengers,” said senior divisional operating manager of Dhanbad, Ved Prakash.

Dhanbad divisional forest officer Satish Rai claimed tracks were not a part of the routine elephant corridor. Calling the incident “unfortunate”, he said generally elephants from Bokaro restricted themselves to the northern side of the NH link to Dhanbad. This time, they unexpectedly ventured “to the southern side”.

Asked why night monitoring was absent, Rai cited resource and manpower crunch.

According to forest department records of last 10 years, elephant movement on Dumka-Jamtara-Giridih-Koderma-Dhanbad-Bokaro-Chatra corridor is up but precautionary measures aren’t. “Speed limits for trains should be in force. No one feels good if a protected animal dies,” said Bokaro DFO Kumar Manish Arvind.

The Supreme Court, in March 2013, had asked the Centre and 10 states, including Jharkhand, to take steps against elephant deaths on tracks.