The forest department mooted the proposal to build rail fences in Wayanad a year ago to prevent marauding elephants from straying into human habitations and agriculture fields. Even the state had requested the Indian Railways to allot discarded rail lines at subsidised rates under its CSR initiatives but to no avail.
“We have not been successful in getting the discarded rail lines at subsidised rates from Railways. The government had raised the request when the railway minister Suresh Prabhu visited Kochi and the matter was also raised in the meeting of the parliamentary committee on environment held in New Delhi. But we are yet to get a positive response as the Railway authorities are citing its financial constraints in providing discarded rail lines at reduced rates,” a top forest official said.
He said if the old rails are brought at market rate from the scrap yards, then the cost of fence would rise to Rs 1.31 crore per km. “Though building stone walls would cost more than that, rail fencing would have been more viable if the rails could be procured at subsidised rate. We had told the railways that it would be apt for them to support the project since elephant was the mascot of Indian Railways as well,” he said.
The WWS authorities had submitted a proposal to build rail fences in Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary to the state government in the first phase.
“We have been pitching for fences made using rails discarded by the Railways as it does not hamper movement of non-target species, especially in a highly fragmented forest landscape like Wayanad. Other wildlife conflict mitigation measures like building granite walls and elephant proof trenches can adversely affect habitat connectivity,” he said.
Wildlife scientist Dr P O Nameer who had earlier submitted a proposal before the government, said that the rail fences were ecologically friendly when compared to traditional solutions like elephant proof walls. It also didn’t require regular maintenance as in the case of solar-powered fences.
“If the rails are made available free by the railway department, then the cost of construction would be just Rs 2.77 lakh for 1km which would be just 2% of the cost of an elephant proof wall,” he said adding that rain fences have been found efficient in Nagarahole sanctuary in Karnataka.