New Delhi: Turning down the railways` plea seeking modification of directions on movement of trains in West Bengal, the Supreme Court has asked it and the environment ministry to examine steps taken by Karnataka and suggestions by other states to protect wild elephants from falling prey to fast-moving trains and electrocution.
The railways wanted the court to modify its Dec 10, 2013 direction to divert fast-moving and night trains on Siliguri-Falakata section, as well as take steps to discontinue the movement of goods trains at night between Siliguri and Alipurduar in the state.
Taking note of the various steps taken by the Karnataka government that resulted in zero casualty of elephants last year, an apex court bench of Justice K.S. Radhakrishnan and Justice Vikramajit Sen Tuesday asked Solicitor General Mohan Parasaran to examine all these aspects and submit detailed suggestions.
The court in its order said: "MoEF (ministry of environment and forest) and railways will examine all these aspects and submit their detailed suggestions and steps they are going to take so that such untoward incidents would not happen in future and wildlife could be protected."
The court`s order came in the course of the hearing of a petition by Shakti Prasad Nayak seeking direction for taking appropriate steps to prevent killings of elephants hit by fast-moving trains passing through their habitats and also by electrocution.
Nayak has also sought the framing of guidelines including strategies to protect elephants from being victims of such incidents.
The court reiterated its Dec 10 order asking the railways to reduce the speed limit of the trains passing through dense forests. In case, speed limits are not followed, then action should be taken against the erring drivers, it said.
"You will have to reduce the speed limit," it told the railways.
While telling the court that it had "substantially" complied with the direction to apply brakes and reduce speeds, the railways urged the court to re-look its other two directions.
"Both the upper line (Siligurti to Alipurduar) and lower line (via Falakata) are absolutely vital for the economy of the entire northeastern region since the goods train moving on this section carry all essential commodities like foodgrains, vegetables, fertilizers, and also essential petroleum products."
"Diversions of fast moving and night trains to Siliguri-Falakata route will not be possible without cancellation of trains running on lower line as this line is already choked beyond 100 percent capacity.
"Cancellation of trains on this lower line would mean reduction of trains to vital northeastern states," the railways said in its application.
It further said that the upper line has been serving vital strategic defence establishments like Hasimara and Binaguri since long and any proposal for reduction or cancellation of trains on this route is bound to compromise their strategic importance.
The railways also said that more than 10,500 people travel by trains on these lines every day.
Counsel Sanjeeb Panigarhi, appearing for petitioner Nayak, however, opposed the railways` plea, saying speed of trains passing through dense forests should be reduced to 25 km as recommended by the environment ministry and not 50 km as being sought by the railways.