कालचीनी Kalchini (KCF): Various wildlife organisations from the Dooars region have blamed the Indian Railways and the forest department for rising elephant deaths in train related accidents. Elephant deaths have been frequent in the region since 2000, yet the two departments have failed to learn from their mistakes, they lamented.
The jungles in the Dooars region are famous all over for the elephants and many tourists visit the region to see the magnificent creature. However, the number of these Asiatic elephants have continued to decline over the years due to various regions, including depleting forest reserves, human encroachments and even poachers. To add to the woes, the frequent killing of elephants by trains has considerably added to the reduction in the numbers in areas spanning from Rajabhatkhawa in Dooars to Gulma near Siliguri. The wildlife organisations fear if the same satiation continues the jungles of Dooars may not have any elephants left at all.
The wildlife enthusiasts further explained that any natural death of an elephant is understandable, but death after being hit by a train is not natural. They said the continuous deaths will have an adverse affect on the jungle ecosystem and will also destroy the balance between human and nature.
Notably, a total of 54 elephants have been killed by speeding trains in the region ever since the Siliguri-Alipurduar railway track, which passes through the elephant corridors in Dooars, was converted from narrow to broad gauge in 2004. According to the central government, the best way to reduce frequent death of elephants along the route would be to stop the service at night along the Dooars line (Gulma-Alipurduar) or should run at a maximum speed of 25 km per hour as 78% of elephant deaths occurred during the night (6 pm to 6 am).
With rising number of elephants deaths after being mowed down by trains and increasing pressure from environmentalists and wildlife enthusiasts, it remains to be seen what action the railways and the forest department will take in the future to reduce the deaths.
Foresters rue Staff Crunch
Forest officials have said they are having a tough time keeping an eye on railway tracks given the staff crunch they have been facing, and the depredation in several villages and tea plantations.
Foresters have raised this issue after two elephants were mowed down by a special Army train at Hasimara in Jalpaiguri hours yesterday.
Forest officials responsible for maintaining coordination with railway officials always receive phone calls at midnight from villagers and tea plantation authorities about elephant depredation.
They are in no position to keep a close watch on the elephant corridor close to railway tracks and respond to phone calls about elephant mayhem in agricultural fields and tea plantations at the same time.
Deputy Field Director of Buxa Tiger Reserve, Apurba Sen, admitted the problem and said: “Foresters face problems in Hamiltanganj and its adjoining areas when it comes to managing elephant depredation. They receive several phone calls every midnight. They cannot pay attention to the railway tracks when they have to respond to the phone calls.”
According to Mr Sen, a routine coordination meeting would be held shortly between railway officials and foresters.
Authorities have asked forest guards to keep a watch on elephant herds just in case some of the animals are injured by the trains.
“Apart from the death of two elephants, including a female adult, there is no report of an injured elephant yet. We have asked the forest guards to keep a vigil on the herds to detect any injured jumbo,” Mr Sen said.
A herd of 23 elephants was there in the morning after the incident and it left the area soon after people assembled there.
Senior foresters do not want to blame the rail department and forest department staff for their lapses after the death of the two
People For Animals, Siliguri, meanwhile, served a deputation to the NF Railway general manager through the NJP area manager today, requesting him to check the speed limit of trains running between Siliguri Junction and Alipurduar Junction.