Picturesque Dooars fit for tourists but unsafe for wild animals

Environmentalists and NGOs are protesting the killing of wild elephants in the Dooars by speedy trains amidst lack of effort from the government in tackling the situation.


By Vivek Ghatani

Picturesque tea gardens enthral passengers, the view of the mountains forces them to click all through the journey while glimpses of the Adivashis – the long living tribes of the region – plucking tea leaves is a regular phenomenon. Yes, this is the 168 kilometre long stretch railway route between New Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar, popularly called the ‘Dooars’ in Northern West Bengal.

Beauty of the tea gardens along with picturesque view all through the journey is what makes the Dooars an amazing region. However, the area these days is much in news for all the wrong reasons.

Six pachyderms were mowed down in the wee hours recently, by a speeding train that ramped into a herd of at least 40 elephants near Jaldhaka River Bridge under Nagarkata Police station. The incident left six dead and one injured. Many other elephants are believed to have suffered grievous injuries, thus increasing the fear that more deaths are in the offing. The area is an elephant corridor, near the Chapramari Forest.

The incident is not a new one though.  On October 11 this year, one elephant was mowed down by speeding train at Mongpong under Malbazar sub division. The incidents are reminiscent of September 22 2010, May 30 2013 and January 5 2013 incidents when seven, three and five elephants were killed respectively, by speeding trains along the route. The total number of elephants killed by a speeding train has now reached to 17 this year alone.

The killing of elephants by trains has already become a national issue as it was also mentioned in this year’s railway budget presented in the parliament by the then railway minister, Pawan Kumar Bansal.

“Several measures have been initiated in consultation with Ministry of Environment & Forests, which I am confident, will substantially reduce such accidents and safeguard the lives of these gentle giants,” Bansal had said in his budget speech.

However, the rate of elephants mowed down in North Bengal by speeding trains has been increasing alarmingly, and the railways haven’t been able to put in place the measures to save the elephants.

Every time elephants are mowed down by trains, the state forest department and the railways sit for emergency meetings, agree to make joint efforts while forgetting to take follow up actions. “The seriousness of the problem is discussed only when elephants get killed,” said Animesh Bose, the programme coordinator of Himalayan Nature and Adventure Foundation (HNAF), a Siliguri based organization.

It was after the mowing down of seven elephants on September 22, 2010, that Jairam Ramesh, then union minister for environment and forests, visited the spot near Banarhat in Jalpaiguri district. Ramesh announced an assistance of Rs. 7 crore for the state government to construct 10 elephant observation tours along the railway track, and to flatten track gradients. In addition to these, Ramesh said that the train speed limit should be reduced along the entire route to a maximum of 30 km per hour.

“The railways and the state forest department are equally responsible for the mowing down of elephants by speeding trains,” says Bose adding that some measures put in place along the railway track that passes through wild life sanctuaries, national forests and tiger reserves are impractical and mere eye wash.

Saving the elephants by installing search lights, flood lights and watch towers along the track is impractical, said Bose adding that the solution lies in the diversion of long distance and goods trains to alternative route via Falakata and New Coochbehar by doubling the railway track.

Prabir Panda, the secretary of Pachim Banga Vigyan Manch (PBVM) Darjeeling district committee said, “Most of the elephants killed along New Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar track were mowed down by long distance trains and goods trains that do not have any stoppage in the Dooars. These trains have not served any purpose for the people of the Dooars and they need to be diverted through different routes, via Falakata and New Coochbehar”.

The New Jalpaiguri-Alipurduar railway line converted to broad gauge from meter gauge in 2004, despite widespread opposition from the environmentalists and wild life activists, has always been a threat for the wild animals.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vivek Ghatani is a freelance journalist working since the past 10 years covering Darjeeling, North Bengal and Sikkim. He has already worked with publications like The Statesman, The Telegraph, The Himalayan Mirror and Civil Society Magazine apart from contributing in many local magazines from time to time. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vivek Ghatani is a freelance journalist working since the past 10 years covering Darjeeling, North Bengal and Sikkim. He has already worked with publications like The Statesman, The Telegraph, The Himalayan Mirror and Civil Society Magazine apart from contributing in many local magazines from time to time. more

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