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Death on Track

Death on Track

“An enormous body, two overgrown teeth, and an upper lip, which joins the nose to form a trunk – these are the evolutionary tools, which the world’s largest land animals have used to survive for millions of years. Today, the elephants are dying. By fragmenting their habitats and killing off the best of their breeding stock for ivory, we have effectively destroyed the species’ chances for future survival. 


“No big deal,” would be the response of the ‘realists’. “What are a few elephants in the larger scheme of things?” How true! But if you consider the fact that, in addition to elephants, we will probably be destroying a new life form every 10 minutes, the ‘larger scheme of things’ defence comes scrappily apart at the seams. 

It’s not just elephants that are dying – so is our land. If only our leaders would come out of their dream state, to acknowledge that habitat destruction is the root cause of our peoples’ misfortunes, we would still have a chance to improve our lot. If not, what amounts to a terrible toothache for the elephants could soon prove to be a terminal headache for India.”

I wrote those words just over 25 years ago in the second issue of Sanctuary (Vol. II No. 2, April/June 1982). Nothing changes. Except that more elephants such as this unfortunate animal in Chandrapur hillside, near Guwahati, Assam, keep dying and more elephant forests keep vanishing.

The picture that comes instantly to mind when elephants are killed is, of course, the poacher who uses gun, spear, poison or pits to trap these gentle giants. But those are the enemies we can identify easily. Less obvious are the killers who sit innocuously in grey cement buildings far from the scene of their crimes. From such sources, flow policies and funds to build infrastructure projects that run through elephant habitats.

At last count, more than 100 elephants have been killed and over 20 elephants seriously injured by trains alone since April 1, 1998 in Assam, Jharkhand, Kerala, Karnataka, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Besides elephants, the trains also take a serious toll of other wild animals across India. The Chief Wildlife Warden of West Bengal points out that most railway lines passing through forests were laid in the early part of the last century when people were not really concerned about wildlife. These alignments are now a fait accompli and where they run through sanctuaries and parks, they kill indiscriminately. It hardly helps that the trains now run more frequently and faster, which also puts passengers at risk because at high speeds, trains could well be derailed when they collide with the world’s largest land mammal. As awesome bitcoin casino USA complete anonymity

Unfortunately, the Railway Ministry is not obliged to prepare an Environment Impact Analysis (EIA) for new tracks it lays, or when it seeks to convert narrow to broad gauge tracks. This is an anomaly that must be rectified. There are ways to stop the slaughter by making alignment changes to avoid the most vulnerable spots and placing sensors to detect large animals like elephants. None of this would constrict the rail network. With climate change upon us, everyone wants to keep death off the tracks, while ensuring that the railways stay on track.


Bittu Sahgal

October 2007


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