NGO Demands Enquiry Into Elephant Deaths In Odisha

In view of the recent elephant deaths along railway lines, Wildlife Society of Odisha in a letter to the MoEFCC has demanded an immediate enquiry into the matter, in order to fix responsibility after identifying the lapses and failure on part of the railways.

On April 16, 2018 a horrific train kill of four elephants in Jharsuguda districts Teladihi level crossing has exposed the unsafe habitat for elephants in Odisha thanks to lax measures by the Railways in controlling train speeds across identified crossing zones.  Wildlife Society of Odisha (WSO) in a letter to the Additional Director General (WL) of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) has demanded an immediate enquiry into the incident to fix responsibility after identifying the lapses and failure on part of the railways. The Forest department had issued a specific advisory to the Railways to slow down trains at Taladihi section as it was a regular elephant crossing zone.

Since 2011-12, over a period of 7 years, Odisha has lost 22 elephants due to train kills out of which half were killed in 2012-13 itself. After the horrific incident of  December 29-30, 2012 in which five elephants were mowed down by the speeding Super fast Coromandal express at Subalaya in Rambha Range in Ganjam district, the MoEFCC set up a three member enquiry committee. This was  just four months after a similar incident in Nambira, Champua range,  Keonjhar district in which four elephants had died.

The committee comprising of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF) & Chief Wildlife Warden of Odisha – Mr. J.D. Sharma, MoEF’s Project Elephant’s  A.M. Singh and  Secretary, Wildlife Society of Orissa’s Biswajit Mohanty enquired into the Rambha train kill and recommended several suggestions to prevent train kills.

Some key recommendations made were -

(1) Regular coordination meetings, at least once in a month at Division level and once every six month at state level

(2) Restriction of train speed at vulnerable tracks which are jointly surveyed and identified by railways and forest department.

(3) Sharing of contact numbers between railways and forest department staff.

(4) Warning Sign Boards for the train drivers at the vulnerable spots.

(5) Regular monitoring of elephant movements by the forest department’s elephant trackers and inform the railway authorities about their movements.

Ever since these recommendations were implemented, the number of train kills in the following three years came down to (nil in 2016-17) and two in 2017-18. Unfortunately, the tragedy of April 16, 2018 stands out jarringly.

In Odisha the frequency and number of trains, specially goods trains in mining and industrial areas have gone up sharply. For example, in the stretch between Meramandali and Sadashivpur stations in Dhenkanal district, on an average nearly 100 trains ply every day on a stretch which observes regular movement of elephants. Unless the forest department and the railway authorities take preventive steps, more such accidents will occur, endangering the lives of Odisha’s wilds.

It is pertinent to note that in the same location at Teladihi level crossing on September 28-29, 2017 an elephant calf died inside a trench that had been dug by the railway authorities for laying cables, but absolutely no action was taken by the department to prevent such accidents. Just 20 days later two more elephants, a mother and her calf died due to the same trench a little distance away.

From past record, it is apparent that the forest department and the railway authorities were well aware of this spot being a regular elephant passing zone. Yet nothing was done to prevent more deaths.

A total of seven elephants have been killed in just over six months in the Teldihi area of Bagdihi range, Jharsuguda in Odisha due to the casual approach adopted by both the forest department as well as the railways. Had the recommendations suggested by the MOEF’s committee been followed strictly and had precautions been taken after the incidents of September 2017, this tragedy could have been easily prevented.