Rail claims 19 halts to save jumbos

Alipurduar/Siliguri, Oct 1 : Railway staff have spotted wild elephants close to the tracks and stopped trains 19 times since September 22 when seven jumbos were mowed down by a speeding goods train in Banarhat, the Northeast Frontier Railway has claimed.

“After the incident of September 22, our staff spotted elephant herds and instructed train drivers to stop. Yesterday, a herd was roaming at night near the yard of the Bagrakote station and train movement was controlled till the animals left. We have also started clearing vegetation alongside the tracks. We are also cracking down on illegal cultivation of crops on railway land,” said A. Ahmed, the senior divisional commercial manager of the Alipurduar division. He said all the trains had been halted at night.

There were frequent complaints that elephants could not be spotted by train drivers because of the thickets along the tracks.

An NFR official said no forester had been sent to the control room of Alipurduar station to keep railway staff informed on elephant movements. “Whatever information we get from the forest department is on elephant movements during the day time,” he added.

The RSP MLA from Alipurduar, Monohar Tirkey, admitted that chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s request to Union minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh to totally ban the night running of trains along the Siliguri-Alipurduar route would have a negative political impact on the Dooars.

“The train track is the lifeline for the Dooars. I will request the chief minister as well as the Centre to find some other solution so that both wildlife and the local economy are protected,” Tirkey said.

The MLA was candid about the eroding base of his party in the brew belt. “There is no denying the fact that our support base has dwindled after the emergence of the Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad. If the state government supports the restriction on train running, the Trinamul Congress and the Congress will stand to gain. The chief minister’s proposal has already generated protests,” said Tirkey.

NH patchwork

Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta said patchworks on NH31, NH31C and NH31D passing through north Bengal would be completed by October 7, reports our Calcutta correspondent.

“I, PWD (public works department) minister Khiti Goswami, and backward classes welfare minister, Jogesh Barman sat with senior officials of the National Highways Authority of India today and it was decided that they would complete patchwork on a 100-kilometre stretch before Mahalaya. The state PWD is looking after the repair of 300 kilometres,” Dasgupta said at Writers’ Buildings.