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27 Jumbos Killed on Tracks in 7 Years (India)

mercredi 29 juin 2011

KOLKATA : The railway tracks of Jalpaiguri have been a graveyard of jumbos.

As many as 27 elephants have been killed by trains speeding through the forests of the district in the last seven years, including seven of a herd at Banarhat last year. In the latest incident, two adult cow elephants were critically injured after being hit near the same spot - off Dyna forest - last Saturday. The pachyderms have their spines broken and their chances of survival are slim, according to veterinarians. Yet, a fumbling forest department and the apathetic railways have initiated no step to save the poor creatures whose corridor has been encroached upon by the tracks.

Wild life activists and experts predict more such accidents in the near future. The reasons are not far to seek. The 168-km broad gauge connecting New Jalpaiguri to Alipurduar Junction cuts across half-a-dozen forests in Jalpaiguri - Buxa Tiger Reserve, Jaldapara, Chapramari, Mahananda, Apalchand and a few other fragmented forests like Dyna. It splits an elephant corridor into two. There’s no way the jumbos can travel along the corridor without risking a hit which is why the tracks shouldn’t have been laid, experts hold. Speed restriction was the only alternative but it hasn’t been done despite a high court order in 2003. Trains continue to travel at 80-100 km an hour, which could be disastrous in a forest zone, they point out.

After the Banarhat disaster in 2010, the railways and the state forest department put their heads together for a solution. A slew of measures were announced, most of which were impractical and ill-advised. A joint survey was proposed to identify areas along the tracks where underpasses and overbridges could be constructed for elephants to pass without risking an accident.

"Nothing could be more ridiculous than a plan like this. How can you expect elephants to tread into an underpass or climb on to an overbridge ? They will obviously stick to the beaten track for herds rarely change their corridor. It should have been the other way round. They should have shifted the tracks," said Dhritikanta Lahiri Choudhury, an elephant expert.

Watch-towers were to be set up along the tracks to monitor elephant movement. Guards posted at the towers were to inform the nearest station ifthey spotted a herd. No tower has been set up.

Cultivation along the tracks should have been restricted for crops often attract herds. This, too, was easier said than done for livelihoods are dependent on cultivation, said Animesh Basu, coordinator of Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation.

"You can’t expect locals to give up farming. In any case, that would hardly help for the area where the accidents are happening falls within the corridor. The jumbos were not likely to change course if cultivation stops," he added.

Finally, undergrowth along the tracks were to be cleared to afford engine drivers a better view. A move that was unlikely to bear fruit unless speed restriction was adopted. The New Jalpaiguri-Alipurduar Junction tracks were converted into broad gauge in 2004, despite protests from a section of foresters in north Bengal and wildlife activists. They contended that instead of using these tracks, that endangered wildlife, the existing parallel tracks that ran from Jalpaiguri to New Alipurduar via Moynaguri and Falakata should have been converted into a broad gauge.

Besides, most trains travelling at night are either goods trains or galloping ones that hardly served the local s. "Those which serve passengers, like Kanchankanya Express or Mahananda Express travel during the day when it is easier for elephants to sight trains. Steps should have been taken to shift night trains to the parallel tracks," said Raja Routh, wildlife warden. The railway budget announced a partial conversion of the parallel tracks between Ambari and Moynaguri. Nothing has been said on the rest which renders the project largely ineffective.

But a new project to connect Malbazar and Changrabanda in Cooch Behar - through the fringes of Gorumara National Park - has put a question mark on the authorities’ intentions of saving elephants. "It would be a retrograde step and effectively negate all efforts to save elephants in north Bengal," said Lahiri Choudhury.

State forest minister Hiten Barman claimed it would help to move the goods train from the elephant corridor. The New Jalpaiguri-Alipurduar broad gauge will remain, he added. "The tracks are not going to be shifted. We hope to begin work on the recommendations of an expert committee that had proposed underpasses, overbridges and guard walls along the tracks. It’s a Rs-4cr project, of which Rs 2 crore has just been received. It will have to be seen how far these recommendations are workable," said Barman.

Times of India

June 29, 2011

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