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Elephant death: Book forest department not driver, says Railway workers’ union

The Union has alleged that the driver is being made a scapegoat in the forest department’s attempt “to shield its own employees” for negligence of duty.

dehradun Updated: Feb 19, 2018 21:54 IST
Mukesh Rawat
Mukesh Rawat
Hindustan Times, Dehradun
Uttarakhand news,Elephant death,Rajaji Tiger Reserve
Three days after an elephant was killed after being hit by a train inside the Rajaji Tiger Reserve, members of the Northern Railway Men’s Union have opposed the forest department’s move to file a case against the train driver.(HT FILE)

Three days after an elephant was killed after being hit by a train inside the Rajaji Tiger Reserve, members of the Northern Railway Men’s Union have opposed the forest department’s move to file a case against the train driver.

The Union has alleged that the driver is being made a scapegoat in the forest department’s attempt “to shield its own employees” for negligence of duty.

“The forest department is supposed to ensure that forest guards regularly patrol the area around railway tracks and inform the Railways about any movement of wild animals along the tracks. It has regularly been seen that forest guards are absent from their duties,” said Rajendra Singh Gosai, head of the Union’s Dehradun branch.

He added that even in the present case, the forest department did not inform the Railways about the elephants’ movement. “The forest guards are provided walkie-talkies that are linked to the ones with train drivers and other railway officials. The guards are supposed to communicate the information to the nearest railway station, which in turn informs the train driver to lower the speed. No such communication was made by the forest department in this case,” Gosai said.

Meanwhile, the Union is also protesting against any move of the forest department to register a case against the train driver. “The driver was driving the train within the speed limit specified by the railways. How is he then responsible for the accident? If at all a case has to be filed, it must be against the Railways. The individual is being unnecessarily singled out,” said Gokul Saini, assistant general secretary of the Union.

He added that once a driver is booked, he has to spend years on fighting the case alone. “The expenses has to be borne out by the individual, despite being innocent. We have told the divisional railway manager, Moradabad, that train drivers will suspend work if such cases are unnecessarily slapped against them,” he said.

The Union has also demanded that the forest department should take action against its employees who “failed” to inform the railways about the elephants’ movement.

On Sunday, a ‘rail roko’ (stop the train) protest was also organised by the Union in Dehradun.

State forest department data suggests that 58 elephants died in accidents between 2001 and 2017.

On the other hand, Sanatan Sonkar, director of Rajaji Tiger Reserve said, “It is true that we have filed a case against the train driver under the Wildlife Protection Act. We will ensure that proper action is taken in this case.”

He added, “Forest guards cannot be deployed at all locations. It is very difficult to man the entire stretch. The spot where the accident has occurred is a straight stretch. The driver has claimed that he could not see the elephant due to poor visibility. It is difficult to believe that he could not see an entire herd of elephants cross the track on a straight stretch. If at all the visibility was low, why was he plying the train at all?”

He also rubbished the claim that the train was running within the prescribed speed limit. “The baby elephant has been dragged for 35 metre on the track,” he said, adding that the Union is trying to unnecessarily politicise the issue.

“The Railways has been callous in its commitment to preserve the wildlife inside the reserve area. We will ask the Railways to either take responsibility or face legal action,” he said.

First Published: Feb 19, 2018 21:54 IST