New Delhi: The death of seven elephants on rail tracks in West Bengal has brought to fore the threat the jumbos are facing in the country with as many as 150 of them being mowed down by speeding trains since 1987.
According to the latest report of the Elephant Task Force (ETF) of the Environment Ministry, West Bengal, where the tragedy occurred on Thursday, stands next only to Assam in the number of elephant casualties due to train movements.
Percentage wise, out of 150 jumbo deaths across the states, Assam’s share is a staggering 36 per cent, while West Bengal stood second recording 26 per cent of the casualties, the ETF said.
Around 14 per cent deaths have been reported from Uttarakhand followed by Jharkhand (10 per cent), Tamil Nadu (6 per cent) Uttar Pradesh and Kerala( 3 per cent each) and Orissa (2 per cent).
As Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh put it, “This (seven jumbo death in West Bengal yesterday) is not the first time that such a mishap has taken place, although the scale with which it has taken place now is unprecedented particularly in the North-East frontier.”
Most of the accidents (80 per cent) have happened in summer between January and June with animals hit by trains in the night when the elephants venture out in search of water and food, says the report while suggesting a string of preventive steps for the safety of jumbos, selected as national heritage animal.
The report, prepared at the behest of the Environment Ministry, has sought to bring railway projects in elephant habitats under the Forest Conservation Act and based on the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) to be conducted on elephant movement by qualified biologists with expertise.
“Necessary amendment could also be considered in Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980. Environment (Protection) Act, with a provision that any new investment of value Rs 100 million and above on forest lands already authorised for 63 non-forest uses will be subject to clearance again by the Ministry with compulsory EIA,” as per report.
Intensive survey of accident prone areas was suggested to identify possible factors responsible for elephant deaths due to train hits besides site-specific short and long term mitigation measures.
Other suggestions include engagement of elephant trackers round the year to receive information regarding presence of elephant herds within five kilometers of the track length.
It has also suggested supporting research to develop sensors that could be deployed on either side of the track in accident prone areas to emit warning signals (sound/light) on approach of heavy bodied animals.
Railways should reduce speed of train passing through forest or high accident prone areas while train drivers, cabin crew, guards, passengers and caterers need to be sensitised to avert such accidents, says the report.