Speeding Train Kills Five Elephants In Assam
A speeding passenger train hit a herd of elephants on February 10, 2018 in the Lumding area of Hojai District in Assam, claiming five jumbo lives.
Photo: Shivaram Subramaniam
The engine of the Guwahati-Sichar fast passenger train was derailed by the impact, but no passenger was hurt. However, the same could not be said for the elephants. Out of the five pachyderms hit by the train, three elephants turned out to be calves. As per the motormen, after the accident, the calves lay on the tracks and were surrounded by adult elephants. Elephants are sentient beings and through history and recorded observations, they have been known to grieve their dead.
The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) Officials said that the area where the accident occurred was not a notified elephant corridor, a contentious claim, as the Forest Department in opposition stated that the accident site was in fact one of the 19 places notified along tracks in Lumding, Hojai and Lanka forest ranges where regular elephant movement had been observed. While a primary enquiry has revealed that the train followed the 30 km/ph speed limit, a departmental enquiry has been ordered to check if protocol had been followed.
Assam Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma asserted that the railway officials had been informed about the movement of the elephants, as the forest guards had tried to warn the drivers with flashlights, reported The Hindu. The drivers allegedly had ignored the warning signals, leading to the accident.
“Our people are trying their best to prevent elephant casualties, but the railways seem to be taking such incidents lightly.” Said Pramila Rani.
According to NFR, the accident ought to be seen in the light of the recent spur of human-animal conflict cases. The NFR spokesperson also pointed out that close coordination between field level officials of the Forest Department and Railway Department had prevented 200 accidents this year alone, maintaining that trains have been slowed down whenever the Forest Department shared information on herd movement.
Habitat encroachment and destruction has forced these gentle giants to look for alternative routes for food, often leading to conflict as they come in contact with human-settlements, railway lines, roads and electrical-fencing surrounding farms.
This incident cannot be written off, no matter the number of accidents avoided. Exactly two months ago, on December 10, 2017, a train killed five tuskers, including a pregnant mother, in the Sonitpur district of Assam.
The frequency of these accidents advocates a more proactive approach, including forgoing unplanned development practices, ensuring stricter watch over accident-prone areas, and better coordination between the railway authorities and the Forest Department. Accountability for the drivers must be made resolute and a strict system of retribution must be put in place to punish the offenders.
In light of these recent events, India’s wildlife and conservation community has come together and in a joint letter to the Railway Minister Shri Piyush Goyal and has voiced its concern over elephant mortality along railway lines in India. The letter urges the Minister to take notice and goes on to postulate measures which if undertaken could help mitigate these avoidable accidents.
Urgency is the need of the hour. Only then can we offer a fighting chance to the elephants of our country, a species so severely threatened despite being the country’s heritage animals and ironically Indian Railway’s mascot.