BENGALURU: Sporting a determined look, over a 100 students and teachers hauled up nearly a truckload of trash from around the railway tracks in Khanapur taluk, Belagavi district, recently. The initiative was part of a swachh drive of the forest department to save wildlife deaths on the tracks. The wild animals are attracted by the food thrown there. The forest officials say that with the South Western Railway not cleaning up its act, they have taken up this mission on the Londa-Miraj railway line. And since April, not a single wild animal has died on the tracks in this region.
In the last six years, big mammals like gaurs, elephants and other herbivores have been brutally mowed down by speeding trains in this range. Four areas — Khanapur, Londa, Golihalli and Nagargali — witness maximum movement of elephant and gaur herds across the rail tracks and therefore, need special measures to save them.Sending a strong message to the South Western Railway, Khanapur Range forest officials took it upon themselves to clean 5km of rail track of the food waste being dumped by passengers and railway catering department. It was organised under the guidance of DCF Amarnath and ACF C B Patil and Khanapur Range Forest Officer S S Ningani.
The forest officials involved schoolchildren in this cleaning drive for a day when almost a truckload of waste including food packets, water bottles, plastic bags, boxes were removed from the tracks that were attracting wild animals from the protected areas. From the Shantiniketan High School, nearly 120 students of Class 9 and 10 and teachers lent a helping hand. For them, it was a day of learning — knowing about wildlife behaviour, their movement, their needs, as well as doing their bit for saving the wildlife, says a student.
The forest officials plan to make such cleaning drives a regular affair. The next drive is on August 15 where schoolchildren may be roped in again. The recent killings of two gaurs (when they were hit by a speeding train on the Londa section) and their bodies dismembered and strewn all over the area were unbearable, says a disturbed Ningani.
“That’s when I felt we had to do something as the railways were totally indifferent and doing nothing despite cases against them and despite 4-5 meetings held with the senior railway managers to take up mitigation measures. With herbivores being attracted to the food waste being regularly dumped on the tracks and getting killed regularly, I felt we should clean it up ourselves. Further, with doubling of this line, lot of debris is being thrown by people working here. During summers, with less water in the protected areas, animals come out of their area and come to the rail tracks frequently. Disturbed by the continuous rail horn sound, they are trapped in this valley – with nowhere to go and get killed.”
Three buses were organised to bring the schoolchildren while all the staff took great care to provide all safety and security as the cleaning event was on and around railway tracks. Ningani explains, “We provided hand gloves and bags to the children for collecting the waste and on a single day, a 5km section which was most vulnerable was cleaned up. We took all precautions so that children were protected from any incoming trains and guards/watchers were posted to alert them. One lorry-load comprising bottles, food debris and other waste was removed from adjoining areas and the tracks. We also provided glucose, snacks to the children and dropped them safely back to their school.”
The RFO adds, “By involving children, we wanted to send a direct message to the SWR to take mitigation measures as wild animals are being killed for no fault of theirs on rail tracks.”With destruction of bamboo in the past decade, big herbivores like elephants and gaurs have been moving out of protected areas in search of food. However, with new germination of bamboo, it will take another two-three years for them to grow to a particular height and then the fodder requirement of animals will be resolved.