WTI-IFAW Project Ensures Zero Elephant Deaths on Rajaji Railway Track (India)
The report and the subsequent efforts by WTI-IFAW catalysed the Uttaranchal Forest Department and the Indian Railways to set up a coordination body that implemented the recommendations to ensure zero elephant deaths on this track since 2002.
The study was initiated after a particularly gruesome accident on the railway track in early 2001. The Rapid Action Project study found that several natural and man-made factors were forcing the elephants to cross the tracks, or trapping them in between.
Perennial water sources on one side of the track forced the elephants to cross the track connecting Raiwala and Kansrao railway stations during the dry summer season. Sharp and blind turns, and thick vegetation along the track affected visibility on the track. Steep on both sides of the track at certain sections trapped the helpless elephants when a train was approaching. The speed and frequency of the trains passing through these tracks was also found to be higher than the prescribed limit. The study also found that garbage dumped along the track attracted the elephants raising risks of accidents.
"In September 2001, the state forest department organised a high-level workshop attended by relevant government officials and NGO representatives to finalise the mitigation measures. Based on this, the forest department, Northern railways and WTI began the implementation in February 2002," says Anil Kumar Singh, who coordinated this project.
Joint night patrolling by the Forest Department, Northern Railways and WTI, began along the critical sections of the track to observe elephant movement. The nearby railway stations were informed by walky-talky systems if elephant herds were observed near the track. The information is then conveyed to the drivers of the trains passing through the area, allowing them to reduce the speed or stop the trains. The expenses of the patrolling party were borne by WTI-IFAW.
"When the problem is multivariate one department alone cannot succeed. It has to be joint effort. Any joint effort needs co-ordination and linkage. WTI as an NGO did excellent work in this linkage and coordination for joint effort. WTI worked as a catalyst and played major role," said Sunil Pandey, ex-director, Rajaji NP, in whose tenure the project was initiated. "This activity requires tremendous amount of hard work because patrolling and other activities in such a tough terrain at night is very difficult. People who made the project a success are those of the grass root levels whether of the Forest Department, Railways or WTI," he added.
GS Pandey, director, Rajaji NP said, "The joint patrolling at critical section of railway track in Rajaji National Park has been a success. However, it is not foolproof, and so, long term solution through diversion of rail traffic via Rishikesh to Dehradun has to be sought."
In addition to the patrolling, regular de-silting of water bodies in the southern side began so that elephants were not forced to cross the track during the dry season. One of the larger tanks was repaired and de-silted by WTI-IFAW, while Indian Railways flattened the steep mounds abutting the tracks to facilitate animal movement.
"Train drivers on this track were individually sensitised and posters were put up inside their retiring rooms at railways stations so that they were constantly reminded of the issue. Additionally, regular interactive awareness workshops for the railway and forest department staff were organised. Signage to remind the drivers were put up in vulnerable stretches. Successful efforts of drivers to avert accidents have been acknowledged and awarded," Ashok Kumar, vice-chairman WTI, who supervised this project, said.
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