March, 2013: An elephant died after being hit by a goods train near Ghatagon in Keonjhar district
January, 2013: Three elephant’s dead and one critically injured in the Jalpaiguri district
December, 2012: Six elephants run over by a train in Odisha
I could go on. But I would prefer to stop here because these statistics get horrid and would hurt anyone who cares about the environment.
Everything about India has changed in the last 20 years. The buildings have got taller. The gadgets have got sleeker. The automobiles have got cooler. The connectivity has gotten better. I am forced to think if people didn’t wonder about the repercussions. I find it difficult to believe that no one realized the consequences of what they were doing when they set up train tracks right in the middle of forests. Were we avoiding the inevitable or were we just playing dumb?
I don’t think anyone of us can imagine the plight of an animal when a train flashes past its eyes. Their serene and quiet environment must be feeling like an alien land where they’re scared each time a train passes by. Some of them get stuck in train tracks and die. The others are hit by the train while they’re in the process of crossing the track.
Animals, such as elephants, who are dying on these tracks are imperative to the ecosystem and the environment. They are not creatures you can do without. They modify their habitat by converting savannah and woodland to grassland. They provide water for species by digging holes in the dry riverbeds. An elephant’s journey actually provides food for birds, insects and reptiles because of the depression created by their footprints. And these are just a few of the things they do for the environment.
I know there are rules. There are speed limits set which need to be followed while a train is on a track where the presence of animals is eminent. The drivers need to be vigilant while they’re on these routes because you never know what creature might be where. But if these rules were being followed, would so many animals be dying?
This isn’t an impossible task. It is achievable. The Wildlife Trust of India worked towards this for the railway track passing through the Rajaji National Park. They suggested some elementary measures such as joint patrolling of sensitive areas, removing hurdles from the tracks, training the drivers better etc. These measures have worked very well and no elephants have died in the National Park post 2002.
Forests need to be conserved. They are not our place. They never were. They don’t need development. They need to be a secure habitat for the animals that live there. Now that we already have intruded, the least we can do is make sure that we’re not mercilessly crushing any more of our animal population. Like I said earlier this is achievable.
Natasha Adlakha is a corporate professional from Delhi. She is also a writer and an activist. She can be found on twitter - @grammar_nazzzi.
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