Four elephants died a brutal death when they were hit by a speeding train in Kurumbanpalayam near Madukkarai, in the Coimbatore Forest division. Two tuskers, one pregnant female and a calf were hit and killed on the spot. The impact was so powerful that four bogies of the train were instantly derailed! One of the tuskers was then dragged for another 250 meters, the remains of which were hardly recognizable. The mishap took place in the early hours of the morning at 1.30 AM on 4 February 2008. The train was traveling at speeds in excess of 135 Kmph, which is way above the norm in India.
The site falls under the Palakkad Railway division, is a part of Project Elephant area and is also a frequently used elephant passage. Records clearly show that in the last 5 years elephants have used this route consistently on many occasions between the months of November and January. There are about seven such passages between Madukkarai and Palakkad (including the Walayar forest area). Being traditional transit paths, these elephants don't cause any serious damage to human life or property.
But when these passages are disturbed and contiguous patches of habitat are fragmented, the equation changes. The animals are left with no choice but to stray consistently into human settlements and the stress levels are high, which in turn leads to intense Human-Elephant conflict.
In this decade alone about 15 elephants have been killed in train hits on this stretch of railway track. The most recent examples prior to this incident occurred on 28 September 2007 where one tusker was killed by a train hit in Walayar and 2nd October 2006 when an elephant was killed under similar circumstances in the walayar forest. Elephants are not the only victims, large numbers of deer including Sambhar and Spotted deer, monkeys, and smaller mammals have fallen victim to trains on this deadly stretch of track.
Similar accidents are common all over India and are increasing in frequency by the day. The problem is acute especially in northern states like Uttarakhand, Bihar and Eastern and Northeastern states like West Bengal, Orissa and Assam. Countless animals have been killed in these areas in the last decade which include species like the Tiger and Leopard which are endangered species. States like Uttarakhand and Bihar have passed orders, the implementation of which will regulate train speeds in wildlife areas. An example of this is that speeds of trains passing though Rajaji National Park, Uttarakhand have been restricted to 20Kmph. Train hit casualties have dropped to a great extent as a result of such initiatives.
The same initiative and efficient implementation of laws is seriously lacking in most affected states. For example, it is well known that in West Bengal in spite of a high court order to regulate train speeds, the order has not implemented. The respective state governments and our organization (Wildlife Protection Society of India- New Delhi. http://www.wpsi-india.org/) are representing the matter to the Prime minister and others concerned. We hope that The Honorable Prime minister will take positive steps to address an issue as serious as this. We do hope that this issue of train hits will be taken up with the concerned authorities to rectify the gross mismanagement and flouting of existing laws which has led to the non-selective and brutal killing of animals. The Walayar-Coimbatore accidents have also been brought to the notice of the concerned officials and related departments and we expect some immediate measures to be taken to save the animals.
We have written a letter to state as well as the immediate Forest and railway authorities' concerned. The letter includes suggestions such as restricting the train speed to 20kmph in the wildlife areas and other forest areas, providing training to locomotive pilots officers of the railway in this regard, precautionary measures to be taken in wildlife emergencies, maintaining a database of wildlife presence and movement with the support of field level staff of railways as well as forest department, studying the mobility patterns of elephant and other wildlife at crucial points and elephant passages, immediate arrangements and a temporary mechanism in the same matter by co-coordinating forest and railway authorities, placing wildlife sign boards in areas prone to such accidents and to inform the passengers and locomotive pilots etc. Support and training can be provided by our organization in this regard.
The forest department on the other hand is planning to erect electric fencing and digging trenches in the passages in Walayar. This is not the solution to the problem and it will only serve to increase the intensity of Human-Elephant conflict in adjacent villages. Manipulating the movement of elephants and other animals will not serve any purpose.
Another problem faced by elephants face is the blockage and encroachment of habitat by big educational institutions, industrial and commercial companies, and the land mafia. This can be witnessed all along the ghat section and in hilly and forest terrains of the Walayar -Madukkarai belt. This has led to increased man-animal conflict in this area.
The Forest department, on its part can do a lot to solve the problem. One among the many ways is to constitute eco development committees comprising nearby villages where the presence of wildlife, especially the movements of elephants is high. The forest department can organize awareness programmes and Wildlife protection programmes during the migratory period. The Government should encourage such initiatives and fund them adequately. In turn people will see the need to protect these poor creatures.
The biggest solution lies in the hands of the Indian Railways and policy makers. The policy makers have to pass stringent laws regulating train movement in wildlife areas and the onus of implementation lies with the Indian Railways.
The short term solution will be to CUT THE SPEED OF TRAINS TO A MAXIMUM OF 20 Kmph IN WILDLIFE AREAS
The long term solution will be to RELOCATE RAIL TRACKS TO NON-FOREST/WILDLIFE AREAS.
We cannot be mute spectators and watch the Railways add to the injustice being meted out to the wildlife in India.
Your support and follow up is requested in this regard and please do the needful including signing this petition.