A passenger train mowed down five elephants on Saturday night, triggering a blame game between the Assam forest department and Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR).The engine of the train derailed due to the impact at 9.40 p.m. The section was restored after the engine was put back on track almost five hours later.Forest officials said the drivers of the 15611 Guwahati-Silchar Fast Passenger train ignored flashlight signals and ran into a herd of elephants crossing the track in central Assam’s Hojai district. They said the spot between Hawaipur and Lamshakhan stations, some 180 km east of Guwahati, is a notified elephant corridor.Railway officials claimed the section where the elephants were crossing was not a notified elephant corridor and that a 30 kph speed restriction had been imposed on all trains based on inputs from the Forest Department.Three calves dead“Five elephants, including three calves, reportedly died due to the impact. The loco pilots said the calves did not move from the track and the adult elephants began surrounding them when the accident happened,” an officer of the Lumding Railway Division said.“Our people are trying their best to prevent elephant casualties, but the railways seem to be taking such incidents lightly. I cannot fault our department as the railways had been informed about the movement of elephants and forest guards had tried to warn the drivers with flashlights,” Forest Minister Pramila Rani Brahma said on Sunday.A railway line passes through 13% of the elephant corridors in the Northeast, primarily Assam. Though the NFR said Saturday’s tragedy did not happen in one of them, forest officials said they submitted a list of 19 places along railway tracks where elephants have been moving across tracks constantly in Lumding, Hojai and Lanka forest ranges.Saturday’s accident site falls under the Lanka forest range, the area’s wildlife officials said. According to the NFR, incidents of elephant crossings have increased sharply in the recent past and trains have been slowed down whenever the Forest Department shared information on herd movement.Coordination is crucial“It is only because of the close coordination between field level officials of the forest and railway departments that 200 incidents have been prevented this year alone,” NFR spokesperson Pranav Jyoti Sharma said.The NFR is keen on mitigating elephant mortality on railway tracks but at the same time safety of train movements has to be ensured, he added.Green activists say encroachment and habitat destruction have forced elephants to stray out of traditional routes for food. One such diversion in December last year saw five wild elephants being knocked down by a speeding train near a tea estate in north-central Assam’s Sonitpur district. Data provided by the Wildlife Division of Assam’s Forest Department say electrocution, train-hit and attack by villagers killed 40 elephants in 2017. Despite the mortality, elephant population in Assam rose from 5,246 in 2002 to 5,719 last year.
India were dealt a big blow ahead of the third cricket Test against New Zealand with pace spearhead Zaheer Khan being ruled out of the final rubber because of a groin injury.Young left-handed pacer Jaydev Unadkat has been drafted in the squad in place of him.Zaheer suffered an groin injury during the second cricket Test, which ended in a tame draw at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium.”Zaheer Khan is injured and is unavailable for the Third Test against New Zealand, to be played at Nagpur from 20th November to 24th November,” BCCI secretary N Srinivasan said in a release.”The All India Selection Committee has chosen Jayadev Unadkat to replace Zaheer Khan in the squad,” it said.Zaheer was off the field for a good part of the fourth day. The left-handed pacer bowled just three overs during the fifth day.19-year-old Unadkat was named in India’s Under-19 squad for the 2010 World Cup in New Zealand. The left-arm fast bowler represents Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy and has claimed 26 wickets in six first-class games at an average of 26.34.