NFR’s pillar plan in Gibbon binned – Proposal to curb train hits at Sanctuary

Jorhat Town (JTTN):  The Jorhat forest department has rejected a proposal by the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) to build iron pillars inside the Gibbon wildlife sanctuary at Mariani in the district to prevent trains from mowing down wild elephants.

The plan suggested putting up of tall iron pillars, with narrow gaps, on both sides of the track to reduce elephant-related accidents.

Four elephants have died in the past three years after being hit by trains at night when the animals move from one area of the sanctuary to another.

The forest department, instead, has suggested curbs on speed limits of trains while passing through the sanctuary.

The forest is divided into four compartments.

About 1.5km of track passes through the three and four compartments of the sanctuary and a herd often crosses the lines as the area is an elephant corridor.

About 12 trains pass daily from Upper Assam through this stretch making animals vulnerable to accidents, especially at night.

The divisional forest officer (Jorhat), N.K. Malakar, told this correspondent that the divisional office of the NF Railway at Tinsukia recently proposed to build tall iron posts on both sides of the tracks passing through the sanctuary.

He said the railway authorities requested the forest department to fund it.

The divisional forest officer, however, said after examining the proposal it was found to be not feasible and was sent back to the NF Railway.

Restricting the movement of the elephants inside the sanctuary, which is their natural home (habitat) will have great impact on their behaviour. There is a possibility of herds becoming more violent and inflicting more damage on nearby villages and tea gardens, he said.

“Blocking elephant corridors is not desirable as the animals will become more aggressive if their movement within the forest is obstructed. They will change their route and frequency of straying out will increase,” Malakar said.

The divisional forest officer said forest minister Rakibul Hussain, who visited Mariani on Wednesday, told him that the department was in touch with the Union railway ministry seeking reduction in speed of trains while passing through elephant corridors.

Railway sources in Tinsukia said trains followed the speed restriction of 50km per hour while passing through certain stretches in Upper Assam, which are parts of an elephant corridor.

He said there were other factors involved such as railway timetable, which may be affected if the speed was further reduced.

The forest department sources said the sanctuary, with an area of 20.48 square km, is an ideal habitat for two to three elephants but over the last nine years, the population of elephants has gone up to 40, forcing the animals to come out of the forest frequently.

The sanctuary is home to elephants, leopards, jungle cats, civet cats, mongooses, Chinese pangolins, Indian foxes, barking deer, sambar and Malayan giant squirrels apart from gibbons.

There are 291 species of birds in the park, including the white-winged duck.