The death of four elephants, including a tusker and a calf, flung to their deaths in Odisha by the Mumbai-Howrah Gitanjali Express, has exposed yet again the fragility of the elephant corridor in the forested areas as far apart as North Bengal and Jharsuguda. Visuals are horrifying, to say the least.
For all the sanctimonious cant on man and environment, the concern over the movement of elephants is scarcely reflected in the frequency of such accidents and the resultant denudation of wild life.
The accident early on Monday deepens the enormity of such tragedies in the vicinity of forests and in the immediate aftermath of the killing of a tiger, allegedly by hunters, in Bengal’s Lalgarh forest.
As a purported joint venture of the Railways and the forest department of the state, neither of the entities were able to enforce the fundamental certitude of speed restrictions. Small wonder that the carcasses were found quite a distance from the track ~ a testament to the force of the collision.
The loco drivers have to restrict speed to 30 km an hour as the trains trundle through the elephant corridor, but the South Eastern Railway authorities have now admitted that the stipulation wasn’t adhered to at an inhospitable hour. The killer-train was zooming ahead at a speed of 110 km per hour.
Quite the saddest development at this juncture could be the blame-game by the Railways and Odisha’s forest department, with one entity trying to pass the blame on to the other. Both departments need to realise that the man-elephant conflict, however unwittingly, lends no scope for what they call “ passing the buck”.
Neither appears to be anxious to ensure that such accidents don’t recur. The danger isn’t quite corridor-specific; such mishaps have occurred in other parts of the country as well, notably in the forest areas of Kerala.
A comprehensive approach is, therefore, imperative to check the speed of trains on vulnerable sections of the track, and thus initiate an essay towards saving the elephant. Odisha has mercifully been relatively free from such accidents; the risk in Assam and North Bengal is dangerously real.
It is the violation of speed curbs that urgently needs to be probed in any enquiry that may be commissioned. Both sides may be able to cover their tracks if the report is docketed, as such findings routinely are.
The blame-game is a puerile exercise aimed at dumbing down such tragedies on the track. The speed along the corridor is not negotiable. There is no substance, therefore, in the contention of the Railways that it had not been “forewarned” about elephant movement in the region.
The nub of the matter must be that neither the forest department nor the Railways can expect the elephants to send them messages on their movements. This is preposterous.