Written by: Smita Pandey (Intern)
Edited by: Anubhav Yadav (Content Head & Developer)
On 28 May, 2021 an article was published in ‘The Hindu’ titled ‘Night, early morning trains cause most elephant deaths’ by Wilson Thomas. Late night and early morning trains killed seven out of eight elephants on the two railway lines, A and B, between Kottekad and Madukkarai railway stations in the last five years, according to the report from the Southern Railway’s Palakkad Division.
According to current Division data, seven elephants were killed on the two railway lines between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. The death of the eighth elephant was unknown at the time. Five of the eight elephants were killed on the 5.8 kilometer section of B line on either side of Walayar railway station, 4 km towards Ettimadai and 1.8 km towards Kanjikode, according to the Division.
On the basis of a media report, the National Green Tribunal (Principal Bench, New Delhi) began suo moto proceedings on Thursday. According to a media source, elephants have been involved in many incidents on railway tracks between Kottekad, Kerala, and Madukkarai, Tamil Nadu. As a result, the Tribunal issued a series of mandates to the appropriate authorities, instructing them to take prompt steps to avert future disasters and assure wild elephant conservations.
According to the State of Tamil Nadu’s status report, the reasons for such elephant accidents could be related to loco pilots suffering poor vision on the tracks and the topography being inappropriate for the elephants to flee. The Palakkad railway division has taken a number of steps to reduce the number of elephants killed by trains.
1. Vulnerable Section Speed Restrictions
2. Sic: mac-4e boards to notify the train driver ahead of time
3. Low-voltage wires at the perimeter to keep elephants away
4. Ramps for Elephants
5. Lights directed away from the elephants in the Railway Cutting
6. Installing a honey bee-sounding audio alarm
7. Elephants can escape by crossing the railway track through underpasses.
8. Clearing vegetation on a regular basis
9. Real-time interaction between forest officers and railways
Palghat division is planning a number of initiatives to help elephants struck by railways.
1. Provision of solar fencing that hangs parallel to the railway track
2. Signage Boards for Elephants
3. Rail track barricading, solar fencing, and lighting
On March 22, 2021, the Forest Department sent a letter to the Divisional Railway Manager outlining the precautions to be taken when operating trains at night. On March 5, 2021, an inter-ministerial conference was held between the Railways and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF & CC), at which measures such as under bridge building, fencing, and side drainage were planned to be implemented. However, the MoEF & CC later stated that they were unable to take these actions due to a failure to raise the appropriate funds.
The Tribunal stated that more directions are needed to adequately avoid similar accidents from occurring in the future. Several Supreme Court judgments including Vidya Athreya & Anr vs. Union of India & Ors and Prerna Singh Bindra & Ors vs. Union of India & Ors., directed the MoEF & CC to form a Central Monitoring Committee to coordinate with elephant-bearing States on issues relating to elephant safety in elephant protection zones. As a result, the tribunal ordered the Central Monitoring Committee overseeing the project “Elephant” to examine the matter raised in the media report, and advocated to hold a joint meeting on the subject within one month with the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, as well as the Southern Railways, to work out the necessary modalities, including the authority that will incur the necessary outlays.
With this, the matter was disposed of by the National Green Tribunal (NGT).