Senior officials in Odisha’s Forest Department told the Sunday Express that their investigation into the death of four elephants hit by the Mumbai-Howrah Mail Monday revealed that construction on the railway track was the trigger for the accident.
“The railway is constructing another track (at the accident site). To guard their work, engineers had put up a bamboo railing on one side, while the other side had construction slabs. The elephants walking on the track got trapped as the train came towards them,” a forest department investigator said.
“Elephants do not usually touch fences. So they did not break through the 4.5 feet barricades that ran for about a kilometre”, said the official, explaining why an FIR had to be filed against an assistant executive engineer of the South Eastern Railways (SER). Another FIR was filed against the loco pilots.
While not ruling out presence of the railing and slabs, SER’s Chief Public Relations Officer (CPRO) Sanjay Ghosh said, “The accident occurred because the forest department on Monday did not alert the control centre at Bondamunda, as per earlier practices”.
Meanwhile, the forest department has suspended four of its own employees for being unaware of SER’s activities.
Forest officials also conveyed their concern over the animal warning protocol, currently in place for the railways. “We have to issue a warning just 20 minutes before the animals are about to cross train tracks. The warning lasts for two hours and is effective for a two kilometre stretch. But, movement of elephants is not predictable,” said another official.
A man in Dhenkanal district was trampled to death by an elephant on Tuesday in the fifth such attack in the area in the last one month. The forest department is considering changes in the Odisha Wildlife Protection Rules (2006) by removing the requirement of a police report — on cause of death — to award compensation.