Railways refuse to fund fencing, underpasses for lions

राजुला Rajula (RLA):  Despite the death of six lions on train tracks linking Pipavav with Rajula, the railway authorities have refused to provide funds for projects aimed at saving the big cats from accidental death. Not only that, they have even refused to reduce the speed of trains in areas where the lion population is concentrated.

Sources in the railways said that during a recent meeting in Mumbai, the railway authorities, including those from Bhavnagar, declined to give funds for fencing or for construction of underpasses along the tracks where lion numbers were high.

Officials in the state forest department said that the railways had laid down a condition and told the authorities of the forest department that they would support the proposal for an underpass only if the forest department allows them to lay a second track – a separate one – for up and down trains.

“This was an indication that the speed of trains would further increase and, secondly, the tracks would be utilized more,” said a forest department official. The official further said that it was because of lack of support from the railways that the state government had allocated Rs 10 crore in the budget for 2014-15, for construction of fences and underpasses along the track.

Forest department officials said that after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, they had expected something would be done for lion conservation. “We still have high hopes,” said an official. He pointed out that even the Planning Commission had refused to grant Rs 263 crore for long-term lion conservation citing the reason that the lion was found only in one state.

Some officials of the forest department even suggested that moving the Supreme Court seemed to be the only way out. If the apex court orders, the Railways and even the Union ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) will be forced to take up conservation efforts, the official said.

It may be mentioned here that a few days ago, the Supreme Court had directed the railways and Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) to explore the use of advanced radar system to track elephant movement so that the death of pachyderms in train accidents could be prevented.

However, a railway official in Bhavnagar defended their decision. He said on the condition of anonymity that getting funds from the Railways is not easy. “Hence for speedy implementation, we had asked Gujarat to spend. The Railways does not have funds for lion conservation. Money for conversion of Ahmedabad-Botad broad gauge was expected this year but, due to paucity of funds, the department has expressed its inability to give money,” the official said.