Five elephants were mowed down by a speeding train near Balipara in Sonitpur district in northern Assam late Saturday night, with Assam forest minister Pramila Rani Brahma blaming rapid shrinkage of elephant habitat due to encroachment for the incident. The spot is about 184 km from Guwahati.
The five elephants were knocked down by the 15617 Up Guwahati-Naharlagun Express between Balipara and Dhalaibeel stations soon after the train had left Balipara at around 1:20 AM. The foetus of a pregnant elephant was flung out due to the impact of the train.
Assam forest and environment minister Pramila Rani Brahma blamed encroachment on wildlife sanctuaries and reserved forests for the incident and said wildlife habitats had to be restored in order to prevent such unfortunate incidents.
“It is undoubtedly a tragic and unfortunate incident. I would not blame the railways because the spot where the incident took place is not part of a defined elephant corridor. Instead, I would blame encroachment on reserved forests and wildlife sanctuaries which has compelled elephants to come out in search of food,” the minister told The Indian Express.
Though original habitat of the elephants that were killed on Saturday was yet to be ascertained, minister Brahma said they could either be from the Nameri National Park or from Arunachal Pradesh. “There has been serious encroachment in Nameri National Park during the previous Congress government,” she said. At least 5 sq km of the 200 sq km national park, which is a tiger and elephant habitat, has been encroached and destroyed, the minister said.
Northeast Frontier Railway PRO Nripendra Bhattacharyya said since the area where the incident took place was not an identified elephant corridor, hence there was no speed restriction for trains there. “Our drivers have been trained on how to pass through elephant corridors. There are speed restrictions in corridors, apart from coordination between forest guard patrols and railway stations to keep an eye on elephants getting close to railway tracks,” Bhattacharyya said. Moreover, it was dark and foggy, he added.
Tha Naharlagun-bound train was brought back to Balipara station after the incident and it resumed its onward journey from there only at 6:30 AM on Sunday, Bhattacharyya informed.
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