GUWAHATI: A Rajdhani Express coming from Dibrugarh mowed down an elephant and a calf in a jumbo corridor at Mariani in Assam’s Jorhat district on Sunday night when they were crossing the railway tracks. Another elephant was injured in the accident, which occurred near Kharikatia railway station. This has taken the death toll of elephants hit by trains in the North Frontier Railway (NFR) zone to five so far this year.
Forest officials said the female elephant who was run over was 22-years-old, while the calf was about 10 months old. Efforts are being made to save the elephant whose legs have been severely injured, they added.
The three were part of a large herd of about 50 elephants of the nearby Hollongapar Gibbon Sanctuary.
DFO (Jorhat) Nandha Kumar said a prior message was sent to the railway officials concerned about the presence of the herd near the tracks.
“The herd was on the rampage in a village nearby, but two to three elephants were separated from it and went to the railway crossing area. Loco pilots were alerted about the danger ahead well in advance,” the DFO said, adding that it will be probed whether the loco pilots adhered to the prescribed speed limit in the elephant corridor.
Sources in the state forest department told TOI that the railway officials were cautioned about the movement of the elephants in the Kharikatia area surrounded by lush greenery of tea plantations through a common WhatsApp group.
But the NFR authorities said the loco driver was caught unawares by the sudden movement of the elephants. According to the NFR sources, a speed limit of 50kmph has been fixed for the area.
Sabyasachi De, the chief public relations officer of NFR, said the collision could not be averted even after the train speed was limited to 50 kmph. “The elephant calf died on the spot, while the female elephant died later. The herd was moving in the tea garden and suddenly crossed the rail track where the incident happened at 11pm. If we had information about the elephants being in the vicinity of the tracks, we would have been much more cautious and applied the brakes much earlier,” he added, contradicting the claims of the forest department.
The forest department has registered a case under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and initiated a probe into the incident.