The Supreme Court on 23 January 2014 asked the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and Ministry of Railways to evolve steps to prevent death of elephants on rail tracks.
The SC bench of Justice Radhakrishnan and Justice Vikramjit Sen asked both the ministries to study the measures adopted last year by Karnataka government that helped in minimising the casualty of tuskers.
The apex court also turned down the plea of the Ministry of Railways to modify its order of 10 December 2013. In its December 2013 order SC had asked the Ministry of Railways
- to take steps to reduce speed of trains while travelling through forests inhabited by elephants;
- to change rail routes passing through forests; and
- to discontinue the movement of goods trains at night in certain sections where such accidents have been witnessed.
The Ministry of Railways had sought modification of court's direction to divert fast-moving and night trains on Siliguri- Falakata section and for discontinuing the movement of goods trains at night between Siliguri and Alipurduar in West Bengal.
The bench said that the MoEF and Railways will examine all these aspects and submit their detailed suggestions and steps they are going to take so that such untoward incident would not happen in future and wildlife could be protected.
The SC gave its judgement after a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed by Shakti Prasad Nayak. In his PIL he sought direction for taking appropriate steps to prevent killings of elephants hit by fast-moving trains passing through their habitats and also by electrocution. He has also sought the framing of guidelines including strategies to protect elephants from being victims of such incidents.
Karnataka Elephant Task Force Report
The Karnataka Elephant Task Force was headed by Prof. Raman Sukumar which submitted its Report to the Karnataka High Court in September 2012. The main recommendations of the Task Force are
- Three zones are proposed for this purpose, each with a different set of conservation objectives and goals. These zones are Elephant Conservation Zone, Elephant-human Co-existence Zone, and Elephant Removal Zone.
- Establish a Karnataka Elephant Expert Group, within the State Wildlife Board, with a broad mandate to plan, advise, and assist in elephant conservation and management in the state.
- Loss and fragmentation of elephant habitats due to ill-planned commercial infrastructure projects and natural resource extraction
- A high-level effort needs to be taken up by the State Government to legally consolidate elephant habitats
- Improving connectivity between elephant habitats with greater legal cover is recommended.
- Managing land use in non-forest areas adjoining designated forests.
- Reducing pressures on elephant habitat from large scale human resource use
- Mitigating and managing elephant-human conflicts
- In all cases of elephant mortality, the Task Force has recommended that all post mortem examinations be held with external observers.
- Strengthening and streamlining administration for elephant conservation
- The State shall make the fullest use of land use regulation provisions of the Environment Protection Act, 1986 by notification of Ecologically Sensitive Areas around key wildlife habitats so that threats posed by ill-planned tourism infrastructure are minimised.
- Coordinating mechanism between the border sharing States needs to be set up.
- The KFD needs to develop capacity, in partnership with non-governmental agencies if needed, for conducting research and monitoring for elephant conservation and management.
- For welfare and management of captive elephants, the measures suggested among others include strengthening of captive elephant establishment, maintenance of service registers for individual elephants, and introducing the art of humane training and management.
About Project Elephant (PE)
Project Elephant (PE) was launched by the Government of India in the year 1992 as a Centrally Sponsored Scheme with following objectives:
- To protect elephants, their habitat & corridors
- To address issues of man-animal conflict
- Welfare of domesticated elephants
Under PE, financial and technical support is being provided to major elephant bearing States in the country.
The Project is being mainly implemented in 13 States / UTs, viz. Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Kerala, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Uttaranchal, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. Small support is also being given to Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh.