Rail accidents killed 45 elephants in past three years: Govt

Rail accidents killed 45 elephants in past three years: Govt

On World Elephant Day, the increase in the number of pachyderms perishing due to rail accidents is worrisome. Tunnels should be built in key locations to enable elephants to cross rail tracks safely as they move around in search of food & water. This will be an important step to conserve not only the gentle giants but also other wildlife that tend to migrate across habitats.

The Union Government’s efforts to step up coordination between railways and the ministry of environment & forest to prevent elephant deaths due to rail accidents have not succeeded in saving the gentle giants from speeding trains. As many as 45 elephants have perished in rail accidents in the past three years and the number is going up every year. According to government data, 19 elephants died in rail accidents last year, far higher than 16 in 2020 and 10 in 2019.

According to data provided by the Union Government in Lok Sabha, 15 elephants lost their lives in the past three years at the north-east frontier railway division alone. As many as 4 elephants were killed in various accidents during 2019 at this division alone and the number increased further to 6 in 2020. In 2021, elephant deaths in this division declined marginally to 5, Union Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw informed Lok Sabha while replying to a query posed by S Ramalingam on the DMK.

Elephants are also perishing due to encroachment of their natural habitats for agriculture, plantation and other purposes. In Tamil Nadu and several other states, there are instances of elephants getting killed due to fences with live electricity passing through them, and falling into man-made pits like wells.

In the southern railway division alone, nine elephants lost their lives in the past three years. The number of elephants run over by trains in this division increased from 2 in 2019 to 3 in 2020 and 4 in 2021.

Similarly, 7 elephants lost their lives after being hit by trains in the east coast railway division. According to information provided by the rail minister, two elephants each died in 2019 and 2020 in this division while the number increased to 3 in 2021. Vaishnaw also stated that 6 elephants were killed in three years in rail accidents in the northern railway — the casualty figure being 2 each in all the three years.

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Continuing incidence of elephants perishing in rail accidents indicates that the efforts initiated by the ministry of environment, forests and climate change by coordinating with the ministry of railways has failed to stem tragic accidents involving elephants.

“A permanent Co-ordination Committee has been constituted between Ministry of Railways and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for preventing elephant death in train accidents,” environment & forests minister Bhupendra Yadav had informed Parliament earlier.

Speed regulations for trains running through forest areas and construction of underpasses for smooth crossing by elephants were some measures indicated by him in reply to a question posed by BJP MP Sunita Duggal.

“Wildlife Institute of India in consultation with the Ministry of Environment Forest and Climate Change, National Highway Authority, National Tiger Conservation Authority and World Bank Group has published a document namely ‘Eco-friendly Measures to Mitigate Impacts of Linear Infrastructure’ to assist project agencies in designing linear infrastructure, including railways lines, in a manner that reduces human-animal conflicts,” Yadav explained in Lok Sabha.

He had also said provision of fencing at selected locations and provision of signage boards to warn loco pilots about identified elephant corridors were other steps to prevent elephant deaths on railway tracks.

“Construction of underpasses and ramps for the movement of elephants at identified locations.” was mentioned by Bupendra Yadav in Lok Sabha on March 28 this year. However, the railway minister did not mention anything about such facilities in the statement tabled in Lok Sabha on 8th of August.

Unless various departments come on the same page to speed up critical measures like construction of safe crossings, elephants migrating across habitats will continue to face danger from speeding trains.

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Interestingly, Bhupendra Yadav announced on Friday that Agasthiyamalai in Tamil Nadu will be established as an elephant reserve. The announcement was made on the occasion of World Elephant Day. “I am very happy to share with you all that later today, India will witness the establishment of one more Elephant Reserve, Agasthiyamalai in Tamil Nadu, adding another 1,197 sq km of protected area dedicated to conservation of elephants,” Yadav tweeted.

The environment minister was at the Periyar National Park on World Elephant Day and he handed over “Gaj Gaurav” awards to mahouts and the Malasar community from Anamalai of Tamil Nadu. “Periyar is home to elephants, tigers and an astounding biodiversity, all of which are protected under the ambit of elephant conservation. Periyar illustrates the conservation ethos of India by managing biodiversity conservation and people welfare,” Yadav emphasised.

A large number of elephant deaths on railway tracks have happened in states like Odissa, West Bengal and Assam, according to statistics cited by the environment & forests ministry. Climate change is posing challenges like frequent water scarcity that forces elephants to migrate while increasing pace of infrastructure development is taking railway tracks to newer forest areas. Under such circumstances, elephant conservation will face more serbacks if elephant-friendly crossings are not constructed and speed of trains passing through key forest areas is not curtailed.

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