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SC asks railways to prevent elephant deaths on tracks news
By Jagdeep Worah
11 December 2013

Amid governmental inaction, the Supreme Court has taken a useful step to protect the highly threatened and increasingly rare Asian elephant from death on railway tracks.

Responding to a public interest litigation (PIL), the apex court today asked Indian Railways to take steps to reduce the speed of trains when travelling through forests inhabited by elephants in Odisha, Assam, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, Jharkhand, and Kerala.

A bench of justices K S Radhakrishnan and A K Sikri also suggested that rail routes passing through forests should be changed; and directed Railways to assist it in dealing with the issue.

It also asked the state governments concerned to file response on the PIL seeking the court's intervention to prevent death of elephant on rail tracks.

The PIL was filed by an individual, S P Nayak; and his counsel Sanjeeb Panigrahi pleaded that every year around 80 elephants were killed on rail tracks passing through the forest.

Panigrahi submitted that the Railways has not taken precautions like clearing vegetation near the tracks or engaging elephant trackers to prevent train-elephant collisions.

"Elephant deaths in rail accidents have been reported from all elephant range states in the country with more than 110 train-hit deaths recorded since 1987. Nearly 90 per cent  of these deaths in the last two decades were recorded in the states of Assam, West Bengal, Odisha, Uttarakhand and Jharkhand," the petition said.

The Asiatic elephant is a species distinct from its larger African cousin; and is now found mainly in India. Unlike their African cousins, these intelligent elephants can be tamed and trained to human purposes. But they do not make the same headlines as the tiger, though equally endangered.

This writer himself has witnessed the trauma of a young elephant being caught in the tracks in the Haridwar-Rishikesh forest belt of Uttarakhand, with its family  trying to save it.

However, the SC order looks difficult to implement for the Railways. It would probably be more useful to give the pachyderms room which they lack due to unbridled land development and consequent deforestation.

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SC asks railways to prevent elephant deaths on tracks