Report found that preventive measures circulated to zonal railways to prevent animal deaths had not been implemented even after 10 years
More than 63,000 animals, including animals like Asiatic lions (4) and Indian elephants (73) listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, had been run over by trains between 2017-18 and 2020-21. Unmanned level crossings (ULC) were the reason for the death of animals, stated the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on Performance Audit of Derailment in Indian Railways, released last month.
India is home to around 29,000 elephants, showed the 2017 census. The country is the last remaining home of the Asiatic lions in the world, with 674 individuals in the Gir National Park and surrounding areas, according to the 2020 count.
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In June 2015, the Ministry of Railways (MoR) had circulated the recommendations of World Wildlife Fund-India to stop elephant deaths on railway tracks to six zonal railways (ZR).
The recommendations included measures to prevent animal deaths, especially in the case of elephants in the forest passages for Indian Railways.
There were 63,345 cases of animal deaths between 2017-18 and 2020-21, stated the CAG report.
The general advisories to prevent train accidents involving elephants, approved by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) and MoR, had been jointly issued to Railways in 2010, the document said.
The advisories include — clearance of vegetation on the sides of the railway track, underpasses and overpasses across the railway track to allow elephants to escape, signboards to pre-warn loco pilots, sensitisation programmes for loco pilots, guards and station masters, engagement of elephant trackers and to keep railway track free from food waste that attracts elephants.
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Joint inspections were conducted in 102 sections across 18 divisions on nine ZRs by officials of the Audit Department and Engineering Department to verify the status of implementation of measures in identified reserve forest passages.
Despite more than 10 years from the date of issue, the important precautionary measures had not been implemented in many sections, the officials found.
For the safety of Asiatic lions on railway premises, a standard operating procedure (SOP) was signed between officers of Bhavnagar Division of Western Railway zone and the Forest Department in December 2014.
The precautions to be taken by the staff of the railway, as well as the forest department, were laid down in the SOP.
Precautions included speed restrictions in areas where lion movement was frequent, clearance of vegetation along the track, putting up of sign boards near tracks and training of staff and review of the situation every six months by railway and forest officials.
“During the joint inspections conducted by Audit with the Railway Engineers, sufficient signages, fencing and watch towers were not provided at vulnerable locations,” the report noted.
This implies that action towards the safety of Asiatic lions was lacking on the part of the railway administration, it added.
The report recommended that Indian Railways make stringent efforts to complete the work for the early elimination of ULCs to reduce the safety hazards.
It also suggested to ensure that the joint advisories issued by the MoEFCC and MoR be followed scrupulously to prevent animal deaths. This in turn will also help in preventing derailments on this account.
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