Incident once again raises questions over movement of trains along the elephant corridor

Seven elephants of a herd died after being hit by a goods train in the Banarhat area of Jalpaiguri district on Wednesday night.

While four were killed on the spot, the rest died on Thursday. The dead include a sub-adult and two juvenile elephants, Divisional Forest Officer (Wild Life II) Sumita Ghatak told The Hindu over telephone.

The incident has once again raised questions over the movement of trains along the elephant corridor in the region.

“Incidents of collision have increased over the past four years ever since the conversion from metre to broad gauge of tracks that pass through the national sanctuaries in the region. To compound matters, the movement of goods trains has increased too,” State's Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Atanu Raha said.

Prime forest area

Goods trains pass through the prime forest area at odd hours, including the period after evening when elephants go out foraging for food. “Most of the elephant deaths resulting from collision with trains occur at nights,” Ms. Ghatak said.

The State's wildlife and forest officials have blamed the railway authorities for failing to ensure that the trains passing through the region do not exceed the speed limit of 25 km per hour.

A spokesperson of the Northeast Frontier Railway said, however, that the area of occurrence did not fall within an “identified elephant corridor.”

“Speed limits are not being maintained despite our reminding the railway authorities. We shall repeat our request that movement of goods train along this route is also brought down to the minimum,” said Mr. Raha.

No patrolling

“Decisions taken remain decisions. They are not implemented. It is not just a question of trains exceeding speed limits. The whistle is not sounded; there is no patrolling. We are taking up the matter with the Railway Ministry and the Ministry of Environment and Forests,” State's Forest Minister Ananta Ray said.

FIR lodged

The goods train that killed the elephants was running at a speed of nearly 70 km per hour, Ms. Ghatak said. The Forest department has lodged a first information report at the local thana under the Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972