Environment ministry favours electronic surveillance along railway routes to prevent train-elephant collisions


by Mayank Aggarwal

Date Published
The Ministry of Environmental and Forests (MoEF) has now decided to give aspecial thrust on use of technology, especially 24X7electronic surveillance and wireless sensors, to arrest high number of elephant fatalities due to collision with trains.

These are in addition to series of measures like reduction of speed oftrains in areas frequented by elephantsthat MoEF has zeroed on to protect elephants and also save lives as a result of collisions of trains and elephants. MoEF informed the Supreme Court about these measure in an affidavit filed last week where a case is going on in this issue.

The environment ministry has also informed the apex court about adopting site specific solutions rather than imposing uniform measures for the whole elephant landscape which is spread across 16 states of India that is nearly half the country.

Problem of elephant deaths is quite grave in states like West Bengal and Odisha and SC over the years has expressed concerns over deaths of elephants after being hit by speeding trains. It had asked the railway ministry and environment ministry to take joint measures to stop the menace.

MoEF is now batting for use of technology to keep a check on such deaths. In tis affidavit, MoEF informed the court about a pilot project by Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi for a low-cost wild animal detection system using wireless sensor networks at Rajaji National Park in Uttarakhand.

 MoEF has already installed the ‘e-eye’ system based on infra-red cameras on pilot basis in the tiger reserve Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand for tracking animals and detecting poachers. And it has now told the West Bengal Government to look into the feasibility of implementation of ‘e-eye’ in the north Bengal Landscape.

“This system could be capable of tracking movement of elephants in order to warn the train drivers regarding presence of elephants in their area. However, coverage of area under the system and an efficient 24 hour daily monitoring mechanism will be necessary for success of these measures. The West Bengal government has been advised to assess the likely benefit of this system,” said MoEF in the affidavit.

The affidavit also revealed that both railways and MoEF have agreed upon imposition of speed restriction of 25 km/hr in all identified elephant habitats. The environment ministry has also suggested for diversion of goods and un-scheduled trains from other routes in elephant landscaped identified in West Bengal. 

Other measures that have been suggested by MoEF includes easement of steep slopes on railway embankments in all elephant landscapes, provision of barricades and fencing in identified vulnerable stretches of railway track, sensitization of railway staff, train drivers, station masters and construction of underpasses, ramps in the identified stretches to facilitate smooth movement of elephant.

Of the total estimated population of wild Asian elephants, an endangered species, over 50 % is found in India. Of the total estimated population of 41, 000 – 52,000, around 26, 000-30,000 elephants are in India alone. Few years ago in 2010, the central government had declared elephant as an animal of national heritage.