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NGT Takes Suo Moto Cognisance of Media Report, Issues Directions To States To Curb Elephant Deaths On Railway Tracks

Aaratrika Bhaumik
11 July 2021 3:57 PM GMT
NGT Takes Suo Moto Cognisance of Media Report, Issues Directions To States To Curb Elephant Deaths On Railway Tracks
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The National Green Tribunal (Principal Bench, New Delhi) on Thursday initiated suo moto proceedings on the basis of a media report titled "Night, early morning trains cause most elephant deaths" published in the Hindu on May 29, 2021. The media report enumerated the occurrence of frequent elephant accidents caused on railway tracks running between Kottekad, Kerala and Madukkarai, Tamil Nadu....

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The National Green Tribunal (Principal Bench, New Delhi) on Thursday initiated suo moto proceedings on the basis of a media report titled "Night, early morning trains cause most elephant deaths" published in the Hindu on May 29, 2021. The media report enumerated the occurrence of frequent elephant accidents caused on railway tracks running between Kottekad, Kerala and Madukkarai, Tamil Nadu. Accordingly, the Tribunal issued a host of directions to the concerned authorities to urgently implement measures in order to prevent more such mishaps and secure the safety of wild elephants.

A Bench headed by Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel had taken cognisance of the aforementioned media report and had issued a notice dated July 2, 2017 demanding a status report from the State of Tamil Nadu.

As per the media report, seven elephants had been killed between 10:00 pm to 06:00 am pursuant to being hit by trains on the 'B' line and one elephant had been killed on the 'A' line. The 'A' line runs through reserve forest for 17 km between Chullimada-Madukkarai stations and 'B' line passes through reserve forest for 23 km between Madukkarai- Kanjikode stations.

Pursuant to the status report filed by the State of Tamil Nadu, the Tribunal observed that the reasons for such elephant accidents could be attributed to the loco pilots experiencing poor visibility on the tracks and the topography being unsuitable for the elephants to escape. The status report also included a host of measures already undertaken by the concerned authorities to remedy the situation- deportation of Track watchers and anti-depredation watchers, construction of ramps and watch towers. A percolation pond had also been established for providing water for the animals in order to minimize their movement. A Whatsapp group consisting of the concerned staff of the Railways and the Forest Department was also created. Furthermore, the Forest Department had also written to the Divisional Railway Manager on March 22, 2021 detailing the precautions to be taken during operation of trains at night. An inter- ministerial meeting was also conducted on March 5, 2021 between the Railways and the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) wherein measures such as construction of under bridges, fencing and side drains were decided to be undertaken. However, subsequently the MoEF&CC had intimated that they had failed to take these steps due to the failure in making the payments required.

Other than the aforementioned measures, the Tribunal observed that further directions need to be issued to adequately prevent the occurrence of more such accidents. Reliance was placed on a host of Supreme Court judgements such as Vidya Athreya & Anr v. Union of India and Prerna Singh Bindra & Ors v. Union of India & Ors wherein directions were issued to the MoEF&CC to constitute a Central Monitoring Committee to coordinate with elephant bearing States on issues relating to safety of elephants in elephant protection zones. Subsequently, the Central Monitoring Committee had conducted a meeting on May 29, 2018 wherein it was decided that suggestions enumerated in the Gajah Report had to be implemented by all State governments after notifying the concerned elephant corridors.

Accordingly, the following directions were issued by the Tribunal to the constituted Central Monitoring Committee,

"The Central Monitoring Committee constituted by MoEF&CC dealing with the project 'Elephant' needs to look into the issue raised in the media report in coordination with the Railway Authorities, the Wildlife Institute of India and the States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. A joint meeting needs to be held on the subject by the Central Monitoring Committee of the MoEF&CC with the States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala and the Southern Railways within one month from today to work out the necessary modalities, including the authority which is to incur the necessary expenditure."

Thus the application was disposed of with the direction that a copy of the order had to be forwarded to the MoEF&CC, States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the General Manager, Southern Railways and the Wildlife Institute of India by e-mail.

Case Title: In re: News item published in The Hindu, dated 29.05.2021 titled "Night, early morning trains cause most elephant deaths"

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