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Railway posed biggest threat to elephants in Odisha in 2012  

Monday June 09, 2014

Elephant death, Train accident, East Coast Railway  
 
"While the last minute alert from the forest department Officials of Odisha exposes the lapses in tracking the herd movement, not giving due importance to official intimation about the herd’s presence explains the careless attitude of the East Coast Railway authorities. How it exactly looks like after the recent blame game is that the issue of elephant safety is losing its importance in the departmental fights and bureaucratic complicacies."  
Sujata Mahapatra  
   

With five elephants and a foetus were killed as a running train ran over a herd of elephants crossing the railway line, on 30 December 2012, the number of death of elephants in train accidents, in 2012 only, went up to 11 which is the highest in a year in last five years. Even though poaching and electrocution, deliberate and accidental, have been considered to be bigger threats to the jumbo animal, running trains emerged as another major threat to the elephant population of Odisha, in 2012.

The case of December 30, 2012, was, again, the first case where at least six elephants, including one foetus, were killed in one accident. It also brought to light many loop-holes in the department of Forest and Environment, Odisha, and the Divisional administration of East Coast Railways.

 

In view of such accidents took place in the previous years in the elephant movement areas of Odisha, because of growing human, industrial and mining activities that required frequent train movements, the union ministry of Railways and Ministry of Environment held a meeting in 2009 and, in March 2010, a joint advisory was issued to the officials of both the ministries to follow certain norms in the elephant movement areas.

Referring to the recent mishap with the elephants, Minister of Forest and Environment Minister of Odisha, Bijayshree Routray, said, “in spite of prior information to the authorities of East Coast Railway, they didn’t follow the minimum norms to avoid such a mishap.” But in reply to such an allegation made by the Minister, the Divisional Railway Manager, Khurda Road,  of East Coast Railway, Sanjay Mohanty, said, “There was too little time in hand to do the needful to avoid the mishap. Our control room got the information at 12.43 AM and it was before we could intimate the Rambha Railway Station that we got a call from the station that the mishap had already occurred.”

But the minister was not convinced with the reply who rather stressed upon the norms of the advisory and said, “the trains must run at a limited speed of 20 km per hour in the elephant passing areas where necessary signage are put. This norm has not been followed by the train driver while passing through the elephant movement area.” Apart from this, Routray also said the Railway authorities have grossly failed in doing their duty because they have not even ensured the routine cleaning of vegetations in both sides of the railway track in that area. “Had it been cleaned, the driver must have seen the herd passing and the mishap could have been avoided,” said Routray.

Routray also showed a letter given by the Range Officer of the area where the Railway Divisional Manager was made aware about the presence of the elephant herd in the area and was requested to give necessary instructions to concerned railway staff, train drivers and to the control room for movement of trains from railway post 557/21-22 to 568/78 at slow speed and due precautions from Rambha to Humma Railway Stations.

So, the recent case of elephant death has spurred a blame game between the Forest and Environment ministry of Odisha and the East Coast Railway divisional authorities. But nobody is ready to take the responsibility for the mishap when, in fact, there were lapses in both the sides. While the last minute alert from the forest department Officials of Odisha exposes the lapses in tracking the herd movement, not giving due importance to official intimation about the herd’s presence explains the careless attitude of the East Coast Railway authorities. How it exactly looks like after the recent blame game is that the issue of elephant safety is losing its importance in the departmental fights and bureaucratic complicacies.

[Sujata Mahapatra is a Bhubaneswar based TV Journalist representing 'India TV' in Odisha]

 
 

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