₹8-Crore Walayar Rail fencing project to save Elephants crossing rail tracks yet to come up

PALAKKAD: With the acute summer forcing elephant herds to cross the railway track that passes through a six-km forest area between Kanjikode and Walayar in search of water, there is concern that a rail fencing project in the area is yet to be implemented.

The ₹8 crore project was mooted during last summer when half-a-dozen elephants were killed in separate incidents after being knocked down by speeding trains operated between Palakkad and Coimbatore.

Blame game

While Southern Railway and the Kerala Forest Department are blaming each other for the delay in project execution, patrolling staff confirm a rise in track crossing by thirsty elephants in recent days. In the absence of the fences, elephants are also engaging in largescale crop raids in the nearby fields leading to resentment by farmers.

Rail fences have become a major hope of both elephant lovers and farmers after the solar fencing project initiated in recent years proved to be a failure.

While farmers’ organisations are threatening protests seeking early implementation, forest officials says they are in constant touch with railway higher-ups to implement the project.

Railway officials say they have already extended all possible cooperation to the Forest Department in implementing it.

It was after finding a similar project initiated in Nagarhole National Park in Karnataka, that the State Forest Department proposed the initiative in the six-km forest area.

An expert committee led by Kerala Forest Research Institute director P.S. Easa and Prof. V. Raju of Mahatma Gandhi University had visited the stretch during last December and prepared a detailed report on the practicability of the project. As per the plan, the fencing will come up between Velanchery and Attupathy in the Kanjikode-Walayar forest stretch.

As per the project proposal, fences using discarded rails will prevent the elephants from entering the tracks. At Nagarhole, rail fences have been erected on a 33-km stretch in the first phase of the project and it will soon be replicated in forest areas of Bandipur, Madikeri and Virajpet. In the last 16 years, 25 wild elephants have perished in the stretch while crossing the rail track.

Forest Range Officer K. Sooraj said the Department preferred rail fences, as they were more economical and environment-friendly than trenches, solar electric fences, and elephant-proof walls. It is estimated that a km-long fence costs ₹61.17 lakh, with the rails are priced at ₹58.37 lakh. The fences are ecologically sustainable, as they did not hamper the movement of the non-targeted species, he said.

He said discussions are now on with the railway authorities for a joint and time-bound implementation of the project.