Kolkata: Locals blocked tracks in Jalpaiguri town station for about one hour on Thursday to protest against the death of six elephants who were mowed down by a passenger train inside Chapramari forests in North Bengal.
The protesters were demanding that the speed of trains passing through the Chapramari wildlife sanctuary stretch be restricted to 25 — 40 kilometres/hour, police said.
According to Hiten Burman, forestry minister in West Bengal, the crash was the worst of its kind in recent memory as the death toll is expected to rise as ten other elephants have been seriously injured.
“Seven elephants including two calves have been killed. The condition of those injured is very serious and death toll will rise. We have been asking the railway authorities to ensure that trains do not travel above 40 kilometers per hour in that region but no one is listening,” said Burman, who has now written to the railways to stop all trains movements in the area after dark.
Since 2004, 52 elephants have been killed by moving trains in that area and 18 death have in this year alone. India’s wild elephant population was recently estimated at about 26,000.
However, railway authorities deny the charges. “these incidents will continue to happen unless a permanent solution is found by the state government. It is not possible for the train driver to always be in a lookout for animals while driving,” said a railway spokes person who confirmed that the train was travelling at 60 kilometres per hour at the time of the incident.
Minister of State for Railways Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said, “the incident happened outside the area which has been earmarked as elephant corridor. It is the responsibility of the state government to protect the wildlife. Railway officials cannot do that. The only other solution is to shift the railway line to another area will be very costly.”
Wildlife experts, however, believe that a solution life fencing with low intense electrification is possible to drive away the herd from railway tracks. Some others have written to the state government to provide lighting in the area and install motion censors to prevent such incidents.
“unless all governmental agencies are serious about protecting wildlife such situations will continue,” said Mainul Pramanik, a wildlife expert who has been tracking elephant movements in that forest.