The National Green Tribunal has taken suo motu cognisance of the incident where three elephants, including a calf, died on the Dooars rail
track in Alipurduar district on November 27 morning after a goods train rammed them.
The eastern zone bench of the NGT in Calcutta, comprising Justice B. Amit Sthalekar, the judicial member and Arun Kumar Verma, the expert member, acted on the basis of a newspaper report of the incident on November 29 and mentioned that concerned parties, including officials of the state government, the railways and a central ministry will have to file affidavits, narrating their points with regard to the incident.
The rail track, which connects Siliguri Junction with Alipurduar Junction, moves through a number of reserve forests like Mahananda Wildlife Sanctuary, Chapramari Wildlife Sanctuary and the Buxa Tiger Reserve. The route also passes through the fringes of Gorumara National Park and Jaldapara National Park.
Since 2004, when the track was converted from narrow gauge to broad gauge, it has become vulnerable for wild animals, including elephants. At least 80 elephants have died on the route after being mowed down by trains.
Such incidents had prompted the Bengal forest department to flag the issue and the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) — the railway zone under which the route falls — has announced restriction of speed in certain sections and elephant crossing zones along the route to prevent such accidents.
“The railways are also installing an intrusion detection system along the route. If any animal comes near the track, the system will pass an alert with
the location to the railway control room. The control room, in turn, will alert loco pilots of trains moving through the stretch so that they control speeds to avoid hitting the animal,” said a source.
After the incident, the railways have also imposed a round-the-clock speed restriction between Kalchini and Rajabhatkhawa stations — the accident had occurred in this stretch — of 25kmph.
As the elephants were rammed by the goods train, foresters, who visited the spot,had said that the train was running at high speed.
Wildlife conservationists based in north Bengal have welcomed the NGT’s move.
“We have been demanding since long that goods trains shouldn’t ply along the Dooars route. But the railway authorities didn’t change their decision and in recent years, most elephant deaths in the track have occurred due to goods trains. We hope there will be some changes this time,” said Animesh Bose, the programme coordinator of Himalayan Nature & Adventure Foundation, a Siliguri-based organisation.