An elephant calf, part of a herd that was being driven away from a village in West Midnapore, was mowed down by a goods train on Tuesday night.
Animal lovers and activists have alleged that a team of trained jumbo chasers kept running after the elephants despite the herd nearing the railway tracks.
The driver of the train should also have stopped or slowed down after getting an alert about the herd, they said, blaming “lack of coordination” between the railways and the forest department.
The death has triggered a blame game between the forest department and the railways. The incident took place at 8.15pm between Chandrakona and Garbeta stations, said a railway official.
The herd that included 35 elephants was being driven out of a potato field near Amlagora forest range in Garbeta. A member of an NGO that works for animals and has volunteers in West Midnapore said a forest hula party — comprising men on improvised mini-vans armed with searchlights, fireballs and crackers — was driving the elephants away.
But a forest official of the Ruparayan range, under whose jurisdiction the area falls, said the department had not deployed any hula party and the herd was being chased away by villagers.
A video sent by a member of the NGO, Human and Environment Alliance League (HEAL), shows the herd crossing the tracks amid lights coming from what looks like flaming torches and flashlights. While the bigger elephants manage to cross the track, the calf gets on it when the train has almost arrived. The speeding train drags the animal for some distance before grinding to a halt.
The female calf was around three years old, the forest official said.
“The range office had intimated the Adra division of South Eastern Railway about the presence of the herd near Garbeta,” a senior forest official in Calcutta told Metro.
The South Eastern Railway spokesperson contradicted him. “Garbeta station got a memo (about the presence of the herd) at 8.50pm, much after the accident. There is an internal WhatsApp group comprising rail and forest officials in each division. There was no intimation even in that group,” he said.
The goods train, that had left Chandrakona at 8.11pm and was headed to Garbeta, was moving at a speed of around 50kmph when it hit the elephant, said a railway official.
At least 59 elephants have been killed by trains in Bengal since 2006-07, according to state forest department figures. India’s extensive railway network cuts through forest areas across the country and efforts are on to mitigate the deaths of wild animals, especially elephants, on railway tracks. But wildlife conservators have often called the efforts too little.
“Indian Railways is a serial killer of wild animals. There is hardly any sensitisation of drivers of night trains that run through wildlife corridors. Night trains can be curtailed in Maoist-affected areas. But since animals do not make up vote banks, the authorities are oblivious,” said Joydip Kundu, who runs an organisation that works for nature and wildlife.