Railway Project Threatens Wildlife in Palamu Tiger Reserve in Jharkhand
A part of the 291 km-long railway project between Patratu and Sonnagar is likely to disrupt a part of Palamu Tiger Reserve in Jharkhand. Despite the objections raised by farmers and local officials, the railway managers are planning to add a third track through a part of Palamu Tiger Reserve in Jharkhand. The authorities do not have permission to lay the track over 11 km within the crucial tiger habitat but are working on the rest of the project.
The upcoming third railway project would likely increase the railway’s coal carrying capacity, disrupting the wildlife in the region. The locals have already complained many times about wildlife being victims of goods trains, while farmers are scared of elephants raiding human settlements as the railway project is likely to destroy their habitat.
The Farmers’ Plight
Kanhai Singh, a farmer resident of Ledgain village in the Latehar district of Jharkhand, is having nightmares of wild elephants destroying his crops and damaging the house. Elephants are being forced out of the nearby Palamu Tiger Reserve because of a rail line inside the forest.
Wild animals, particularly elephants, cross over the rail lines. A third line will not only increase the risk of accidents because of the rise in the frequency of trains but would also delay the crossover time of elephants. They may then deviate towards the villages, wreaking havoc on our crops and houses.
Farmers are urging authorities to shift the 94-year-old railway track for the safety of wildlife and villages established close by. Local authorities of the forest department have requested the same. Singh is among the other 25,000 residents of the 20 villages around the reserve who fear they will be troubled just like wild animals by the influx of more trains, and move to nearby farms and villages human settlements.
The majority of residents belong to indigenous communities. The Palamu Tiger Reserve is spread across 1,050 sq km in the Palamu and Latehar districts of Jharkhand. It is a significant part of Betla National Park. Being a tiger reserve, its protection needs to be of utmost priority.
Deviation of wildlife
The third railway construction would hinder the seasonal movement of elephants from Baresarh forest to Betla and back. This project would also increase the human-wildlife conflicts as animals will get diverted to the villages surrounding the core zone of the reserve.
According to D.S. Srivastava, elephant expert and secretary of the Nature Conservation Society in Jharkhand, said,
It will become one of the busiest tracks with the laying of a third railway line. Over 180 pairs of trains already run through the reserve every 24 hours, with an average frequency of five minutes, and is likely to increase as the North Karanpura coal block, the biggest in India, is expected to become operational soon.
Srivastava said that rail lines passing through forest reserves are required to take legal permission from the National Board of Wildlife, but the project is moving ahead without any approval from the board.
Moreover, there is a speed limit of 25 km per hour for the trains that pass through forest reserves, but the track that is set up within Palamu Tiger Reserve is on an incline, making it quite difficult for the drivers to ascend the slope if the driver sticks to this limit.
A railway lineman states,
It often becomes difficult for the loco pilots to reduce speed as the line is a bit steep and the trains have to maintain a speed to pass. Most of the trains run far above the speed limit. The addition of a third line will certainly prove dangerous to animals.
History of accidents
The animals are being run down by trains within Palamu Tiger Reserve since 1980, as per local officials with the forest department. A male elephant died after a collision with the Palamu Express in 2011. In 2005, a female elephant lost its life after being hit by a goods train.
Kumar Ashish, deputy director of Palamu Tiger Reserve said,
We are not against the construction of the railway line as it would play an important role in development but have suggested to the railways [operators] to shift the existing tracks from the core zone to the fringes of the Palamu Tiger Reserve.
The third railway track is quite an expensive investment. Its estimated cost is expected to be $82 million, while the cost for changing the track course would amount to $62 million. However, the permission for the development of new tracks has been progressing, but the core reserve stretch is still pending.
Vishal Anand, chief project manager at Rail Vikas Nigam Limited said that it is rather difficult to shift the railway line to another location, and the department is currently focused on the construction of the third line.