According to an official statement, Union Environment Minister Anil Madhav Dave has asked authorities to ascertain the exact reasons behind the incident, and also directed the state forest department to put in place appropriate measures for the conservation of elephants after discussing the issue with the railways.
The forest department will send SMS alerts to railway authorities on the movement of elephants near railway tracks to prevent accidents, it further said.
The environment ministry said it had initiated steps to prepare a ‘Regional Landscape Plan’ for conservation of elephants in the ‘East Central Elephant Landscape’, comprising West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand and other elephant areas. A three-year action plan for controlling human-elephant conflict in South Bengal is in the works. State forest department officials are scheduled to hold a meeting with railway authorities.
Two elephant calves and their mother were knocked down by the Kharagpur-Adra Passenger at around 7.30 pm on Friday. The train moved on, but the jumbos’ mutilated carcasses spread across the tracks between Bisnupur in Bankura and Piyardoba in West Midnapore for over two hours, disrupted train movement in the section. According to locals, removal of the carcasses was also a time-consuming process as a herd of elephants was guarding them.
Sources in the forest department said that an elephant corridor had been created for a herd of around 50-55 elephants moving from the West Midnapore district to Bankura.
The elephants had crossed the Shilabati river in Garbeta on Friday evening. On the NH60, Raskundu police had maintained the corridor, and traffic had been stopped for the elephants to pass. The pachyderms then made their way to Bankura, after which the accident took place.
The forest department alleged that the train was running at speed of over 45 kmph, violating the speed restriction of 25 – 40 kmph in forest areas. They also said that a lack of seriousness on the part of the railways had led to the accident.
Railway authorities retaliated by saying they had not been informed of the possibility of the elephants crossing the track. “The question of speed restriction does not arise since the train was not passing through the elephant corridor. The elephants suddenly appeared on the track, and the driver could not stop the train,” said a railway official.
”The forest department had informed us to restrict the speed of trains under the Adra section on the 17th, 18 and 23rd of August, and that too for a certain period of time. The incident took place on the 26th of August, about which there was no prior information from the forest department. Without prior information it is hard to take proper action. There is no question of negligence by railways,” Chief PRO of South Eastern Railway Sanjoy Ghosh told The Sunday Express.