Expert team inspects railway lines to study elephant deaths

The report highlighted that trains that plied between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. had caused the deaths of seven out of eight elephants

A team of experts from the Project Elephant Division of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) on Saturday inspected railway lines that link Tamil Nadu and Kerala through forest areas of Coimbatore and Palakkad districts to study factors that led to the deaths of many elephants.

G. Harikumar, former Chief Wildlife Warden, Kerala; K.M. Selvan, Scientist ‘D’ (Project Elephant); Prajna P. Panda from Project Elephant Division; and Bilal Habib from Wildlife Institute of India inspected railway lines between Palakkad and Madukarai.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had, in July, tasked the Central Monitoring Committee constituted by the MoEFCC dealing with the Project Elephant to look into the deaths of wild elephants on the railway lines connecting the two States. The NGT had taken suo motu cognizance of the deaths of elephants based on the report ‘Night, early morning trains cause most elephant deaths’ carried by The Hindu on May 29, 2021.

The report highlighted that trains that plied between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. had caused the deaths of seven out of eight elephants on the two railway lines, A and B, between Kottekad and Madukkarai railway stations in the last five years.

K. Vijayananthan, Chief Conservator of Forests, Eastern Circle, Palakkad; D. Venkatesh, Field Director of the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve; T.K. Ashok Kumar, District Forest Officer, Coimbatore Forest Division; two Assistant Conservators of Forests from Coimbatore and Palakkad and the Senior Divisional Electrical Engineer, (Operation), and the Divisional Engineer of Railways, Palakkad, from the Railways side accompanied the MoEFCC team.

The team analysed the reasons for train hit, mitigation measures taken by Forest Departments in Kerala and Tamil Nadu and the Railways so far, and further course of action to be taken to avoid such incidents in future.

Mr. Kumar said that the Railways arranged an inspection car for the exercise which lasted several hours. Mr. Vijayananthan said that a discussion was held following the inspection. “The expert team will submit a report to the MoEFCC, which in turn will submit it to the NGT,” he said.

R. Pandiyaraja of Tenkasi district, who accessed the details of elephant deaths on the particular section through the Right to Information Act, welcomed the inspection by the expert team.

“The team could have conducted the inspection at night to understand the real problem and practical difficulties faced by the loco pilots. I hope the team would suggest the best solutions to avoid deaths of elephants on railway tracks in future,” he said.

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