Jairam, Mamata lock horns over jumbo deaths on track

While Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said he was repeatedly assured by the Railway board officials that all measures were put in place to avoid such accidents, Railway officials claimed there was no prior information from the Forest Department on the unusual movement of elephants in and around that non-notified area.

“This unfortunate incident took place in an area other than the identified elephant corridors,” Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, said, adding both hers and the Environment Ministry would work in tandem to prevent such tragedies in future.

Railway officials said in that area between Alipurduar and Siliguri section, there were only four elephant corridors where drivers were issued permanent caution order to restrict speed to a maximum of 50 km per hour and to resort to constant whistling.

“The tragedy is more poignant as it comes after the government declares elephant as the national heritage animal and decides to set up a national elephant conservation authority,” Ramesh said. He said he would return from New York on Saturday and would again meet Railway officials next week to find out how such accidents could be stopped.
According to a recent Elephant task force report, there are about 300-350 elephants in the doors of north Bengal. “Although this number is only a little above one per cent of the total elephant population of India, an extraordinarily high human-elephant conflict, characterises this region,” said the task force, headed by environmentalist Mahesh Rangarajan.

Railway officials on their part said as per a joint advisory prepared in March, the Environment Ministry was to engage elephant trackers equipped with mobile phone or walkies to pass on information regarding presence of elephant herds around the track length.

Standing instructions have been issued to station masters that whenever any information on elephant movement was received, caution orders should be issued to drivers for maintaining speed restriction and whistling while driving in that section.

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