On September 27, a little after midnight a speeding goods train mowed down two elephants (a mother and her calf), dragging the latter for one km, while the pair was crossing a railway track that cuts right across the Lumding Reserve Forest in Assam.
The incident took place near Pathorkhola railway station under the Lumding railway division in Assam’s Hojai district.
Deputy Conservator of Forest Rajib Das said the railway engine was seized on October 20 from the possession of the senior divisional railway manager at Bamunimaidan Railway Yard. The seizure was made under schedule 1(12B) of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 for the death of two elephants on the track between Patharkhula and Lamsakhang railway stations.
MK Yadava, Chief Wildlife Warden, Assam, said: “It is a legal procedure now, so I cannot say much. The only thing is that the railways will have to mend their ways.” The two train drivers have been suspended.
On Wednesday, the Northeast Frontier Railways (NFR) released a statement stating that the railway “took serious note of the incident, conducted an inquiry, and has initiated action against the defaulters.”
“In the event of any crime, just as a pistol/dagger/weapon would be recovered, in the same way, we have seized the train engine. We cannot keep it with us, so it has been given back to the railway now — however, they have to produce it for us whenever we require it,” explained Rajiv Das, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Northern Assam Circle, Tezpur.
Pulak Choudhary, DFO Hojai, said that many elephants get mowed down by speeding trains in protected areas. “This is despite speed limits and warning systems being in place,” said Choudhary, adding that “this particular track goes right through Lumding Reserve Forest. A speed limit of 30 kmph was in place, but as per inquiry, the train was moving at a speed of 60 kmph.”
An internal inquiry constituted by the NFR has led to the suspension of the drivers. “In our inquiry, we found that the drivers were speeding, so, the loco pilot and the assistant loco pilot were found overspending and have been suspended,” said Subhanan Chanda, PRO, NFR.
The forest department official went on to add, “Later, railway authorities had suspended the loco pilot and his assistant pilot. The forest staff of Lumding had complained about connection with the incident. As per the order of the Chief Wildlife Warden of Assam, we had seized the engine of the train from the custody of the senior divisional railway manager. We have put the engine in their custody at Rs 12 crore.”
A release from the office of Parimal Suklabaidya, Environment and Forest Minister, Assam, said that the “case was being vigorously pursued under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972).”