New Delhi: If it is not simply a tragic coincidence than what else, that an elephant which represents Indian railways (Bholu, the cartoon elephant is the mascot of Indian Railways) worldwide has become the cause of major embarrassment and intense criticism for it.
On the obvious side, the killings of one of the most intelligent animals on rail track even within its own habitat in a purely unnatural and sometimes in a ghastly manner poses a challenge to the whole litany of professionals – either they are policymakers, officials, or wildlife experts – to come out with a viable and lasting solution to curb these unfortunate incidents.
Over the past several years railway tracks in the dense tropical jungles of eastern Southern India – comprising the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Odisha, Assam and West Bengal – have continued to be the death beds for elephants.
Just for the glimpse, according to figures made public by the Minister of State for Railways Rajen Gohain in July 2018, in last three years, more than 50 elephants were killed on railway tracks in the country. If looking at railway zones, 31 elephants were hit by trains within the zone of Northeast Frontier Railways, followed by 10 in South-eastern railway and five in the Northern railway.
As a matter of fact, these deaths are concentrated mainly in hotspots, mostly in the country’s east. High on the list is the northern area of West Bengal state in the same region where seven elephants died in the 2013 accident. The region is known particularly for dense elephant population.
Reasons behind killing
The increased instances of train-elephant encounter in the dense forests can be reasoned to both the hike in numbers of elephants and the increasing human population sometimes either close to the habitats to these giant animals or inside it. This leads to habitat destruction as well. For instance, the increased human activities like mining in Odisha along with increased frequency of trains, conversion of the narrow gauge into broad gauge, increase in the frequency and speed of trains has led to an increase in the number of deaths of the animal. Besides, apathy on the part of concerned officials is some of the most uniform factors across the region which has been found to be responsible for not having a well-established mechanism to save the pachyderm from being killed on rail tracks.
Besides, the annual migration of elephants makes the herds cover long distances, thus crossing several states and leads them to encounter several tracks falling in their route.
Measures for safety
It’s not that the concerned ministries/authorities haven’t come out with any solution. Since any solution could not be possible without the joint effort and shared understanding between the two concerned ministries-Ministry of Railways and Ministry of Environment and Forest, instances of passing the buck on each other especially after any major incident have adversely affected the efforts to curb such incidents.
Moreover, steps like imposition of speed restrictions on certain locations, planting signboards to warn train drivers about elephant corridors, training and awareness campaign for train crew, fencing at some isolated locations and construction of underpass and ramps were some of the steps which could not yield expected results as a number of casualties have continued to rise.
What needs to be done
Based on the cumulative study and observation of the scholars, environmental experts, officials, wildlife experts etc it can be safely concluded that instead of following same repetitive measures there is the need for finding some innovative steps which should necessarily involve the genuine and rational study of local factors.
For instance, in Uttrakhand, the forest department is taking the help of drones to keep track of elephant movement which has largely succeeded in bringing down the casualty rate of these animals.
Since around 90 percent of fatal accidents take place in the night, steps, like slowing down the speed of the train during dark hours along with intensive patrolling to detect, and alert the Railways about elephant movement, could go a long way towards protecting the lives of our railway’s mascot.
Date: 15 Jan 2019