COIMBATORE: In the wake of death of three wild elephants, including one that was pregnant, after they were hit by a train near Navakkarai in Madukkarai forest range on Friday night, wildlife and RTI activists have demanded the Southern Railway (SR) to restrict the speed limit to 30 kmph in the vulnerable stretch between Kanjikode and Madukkarai railway stations. The loco pilot operated the train at 42 kmph which is below the permissible limit of 45 kmph during night hours, railway sources said.
R Pandiraja, a Tenkasi-based RTI activist, said, “I suspect the loco pilot operated the train above the permissible speed limit. Railways should install speed governors in trains and initiate departmental against loco pilots violating the speed limit. The authorities should also restrict the speed limit to 30 kmph and ensure safe movement of elephants.” He suggested that SR and the Tamil Nadu Forest Department should jointly construct underpasses and overpasses across railway tracks to facilitate safe movement of elephants from one patch to another in search of food and water.
He also demanded rails be set up along the railway track on Kanjikode-Madukkarai stretch. Chennai-based advocate Elephant G Rajendran has plans to approach Madras High Court seeking to direct SR authorities to follow the speed limit of 30 kmph, citing an existing HC direction.
“A decade ago, after a few elephants were killed in a similar accident, I moved the HC which then directed the railways to operate trains along vulnerable stretches at maximum 30 kmph. The court also directed loco pilots to raise horn/siren alerts while negotiating stretches frequented by wild elephants. It also ordered use of powerful headlights to notice presence of elephants. The railways followed the speed limit of 30 kmph only for a few years,” he said.
Even if the loco pilot had operated the train at 42 kmph as claimed by railway authorities, it would have been difficult for him to suddenly stop the train at that speed after noticing the movement of elephants on the track, Rajendran said.
Pandiraja demanded that the State Forest department impose a heavy penalty on railways for killing the three elephants. Loss of animals is equivalent to loss of forest cover, he said. Chief Wildlife Warden Shekhar Kumar Neeraj told TNIE that the Forest Department had already approached railways demanding operation of trains at 30 kmph as the existing limit of 45 kmph is still high. “As a long-term measure, we have planned to construct underpasses and overpasses along the vulnerable stretch.
The projects require huge funds, and we informed MoEF (Ministry of Environment and Forest) officials about it on Saturday morning. Railway officials have also assured cooperation for implementation of these projects,” he said. As an immediate measure, the Forest Department would post additional staff to carry out patrolling and set up additional lights to make the presence of wild elephants noticeable for loco pilots, after identifying the paths of elephants, the Chief Wildlife Warden added.
What activists want
Install speed governors in trains
Restrict the speed limit of trains to 30 kmph in the stretch between Kanjikode and Madukkarai railway stations
Construct underpasses and overpasses across railway tracks to facilitate movement of jumbos
Impose penalty on railways