Railways working on e-surveillance to check Elephant deaths

Ministry tells Supreme Court of steps taken to ensure safety of wild animals

The Railway Ministry is working on developing an electronic intelligent surveillance system to alert control rooms about elephants coming near railway tracks as 77 pachyderms died since 2007 after being hit by speeding trains.

In an affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the ministry said it was supporting a research for the development of “wireless animal tracking system” which can send warning signals on approaching heavy-bodied animals. The ministry also claimed that Rs 1 crore has been sanctioned for a pilot project proposed by IIT-Delhi on “wild animals protection system using wireless sensor networks”.

The response was filed following a direction by the apex court, which was hearing a PIL filed by Shakti Prasad Nayak, a journalist, seeking immediate steps to prevent elephant deaths on railway tracks due

to electrocution or speedy trains. The ministry listed out a number of steps taken out to prevent elephant mortalities in train accidents which included institutional, short term and long term measures in consultation with the Environment Ministry and state forest departments.

Immediate measures like imposition of speed restrictions on trains on the vulnerable stretches to develop location specific strategies and conducting periodic review of the agreed actions were being undertaken, it said.

Immediate steps

The short-term measures included provision of walkie-talkie sets at stations for immediate communication between forest officials and station master while the long-term measures called for driving elephant herds to their forest habitats among others.

The ministry also referred to its advisory issued in 2010, prescribing clearance of vegetation on the sides of railway track, provision of signage boards to pre-warn the train loco-pilots, conducting sensitisation programme, engagement of elephant trackers, keeping tracks free from food waste and construction of underpasses/overpasses to allow them to escape.

“It is submitted that a permanent coordination committee has been formed at the ministries of railway and environment to monitor and review the measures taken to control the incidents of elephant fatalities. Meetings of the committee are being held at regular intervals,” the affidavit said.

According to the petitioner, elephant deaths on railway tracks could be prevented by fitting the train engine with thermal infrared cameras, which can help drivers to gauge the position of the pachyderms and take precautionary measures.