The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) in a report has stated that train accident was the second most common cause for unnatural deaths of elephants between 2016 and 2019. The report noted that 61 elephants died after being hit by trains during the period.
The audit was conducted across eight railway zones – Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR), South Eastern Railway (SER), East Coast Railway (ECoR), Southern Railway (SR), Northern Railway (NR), South Western Railway (SWR), East Central Railway (ECR) and North Eastern Railway (NER).
The NFR accounted for the maximum number of elephant deaths (29) followed by the SER (13). The SWR, which includes Hubbali, Mysuru and Bengaluru divisions, accounted for four deaths in the same period.
The CAG found that six railway zones – the ECoR, ECR, NER, SER, SR and the SWR – did not conduct any programme on wildlife conservation for their staff. Notably, the ministry of railways itself recommended such programmes highlighting the need to travel at a slow speed along vulnerable sections, among others. The workshops should involve railway staff like train drivers, guards, station masters as well as personnel from the forest department.
The railway ministry in its circular dated March 30, 2010 had asked pantry car staff to not throw edible waste in vulnerable stretches. It had also suggested that announcements be made at the stations advising passengers to not throw food along railway lines as it can attract animals. It was found that only three zones – the ECoR, SR and the NR – sensitised their staff about disposing food waste in the correct manner. However, only the NFR had put up posters or banners to inform passengers about the ministry’s advice.
The railways had also taken an initiative to install devices playing the recorded sound of buzzing bees near the tracks. The idea was to keep elephants away from the railway tracks as the sound can be heard from a distance of 700 metres. But the device has not yet been installed by three railway zones – the ECR, NER and the SER.
The SWR has installed the devices at three locations in the Hubballi-Londa and the Londa-Miraj sections. However, the MP3 file with the recorded sound has not been provided till date.
Creating barricades using old rails and putting up solar-fence lighting along railway tracks were also recommended by the railways as short-term measures to stop elephants from coming onto the tracks. Installation of lights directed at right angles from the tracks was also suggested to deter the elephants at night. The SWR had sent a proposal to the Indian Railways in June 2018 to fence off both sides of the tracks along some stretches in the three divisions. The project would have cost Rs 24.67 crore, but no response was received from the ministry.
The report also highlighted that coordination meetings between forest and railway officials to reduce elephant mortalities were either not conducted or seldom conducted by the ECR, NER, NR, SR and the SWR.
Officials from the Ministry of Railways refused to comment.