Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh will meet Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee to discuss the issue of elephants being run over by trains in north Bengal. He said this on Friday after visiting the site where seven elephants were mowed down by a goods train in west Bengal's Jalpaiguri district last week.
“I have written a letter to Ms. Banerjee where I have given several suggestions and I shall be meeting her next week to take this forward,” Mr. Ramesh told The Hindu over the telephone from Jalpaiguri.
Describing it as “a ghastly incident,” he said that it happened at an unusual place — there was no gradient or curve along the track at Banarhat in Jalpaiguri and it occurred right next to a railway crossing.
Mr. Ramesh said conservationists had met with some success in dealing with the problem in the Rajaji National Park, but the length of the track was only 16 km there, whereas the stretch in north Bengal was about 160 km long.
“Since there is a 160-km stretch of track that is vulnerable, we have asked the railways to maintain a speed limit of 25-30 km per hour along the entire track. Currently, the speed limit is observed only in six places and that too of 50 km per hour, which is too high,” he said.
Mr. Ramesh said he had asked the railways to reduce the frequency of goods trains between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. and divert them through an existing track that lay south of the forest areas.
“It is possible that the alternative track would be upgraded and converted into a double-line track, which will be a long-term solution to the problem,”
Mr. Ramesh said 10 watchtowers would be put up along the track to prevent similar incidents. It would not be a foolproof solution.