Infrastructure must be made wildlife-friendly

The Indian Railways has along several stretches of tracks in the Northeast to ensure that trains don’t crash into elephants. This decision was taken after data showed that 70 elephants have died after being hit by trains since 2013. The stretches where trains will slow down include 62 elephant corridors. The IR has another plan to reduce elephant deaths on tracks: building ramps at locations frequented by elephants to let them cross without getting hit by oncoming trains. Elephants are migratory by nature and move from one forest to another for food through these corridors, but trains hurtling down tracks that cut through natural habitat have become a threat for them. According to the 2011 census, there are 5,620 wild elephants in Assam, the highest in the country.

This is not the first time the Northeast Frontier Railway, of the railway zones of the Indian Railways, has taken innovative decisions to save wildlife. In 2017, it put in place a unique system to save pachyderms: At select level crossings, it plays the sound of honeybees (downloaded from the Internet) to keep elephants away from tracks.

These steps taken by the Indian Railways along with the state forest department must be acknowledged, and hopefully it will inspire others to take preventive steps to ensure that India’s wildlife doesn’t pay the price for our development needs. One of the recommendations of the ministry of environment and forests on guidelines for roads in protected areas says, “Wherever possible, natural animal crossings existing across roads should be retained or encouraged. For instance, overlapping tree canopy in closed canopy evergreen/semi evergreen forests is an essential attribute for the movement of arboreal species. Passage to waterholes and daily movements of animals must also be safeguarded”. Where natural passes are not possible, it adds, there should be well-designed tunnels, culverts, pipes for a wide-range of terrestrial and aquatic species.

India’s development agencies must learn from the efforts of the Indian Railways and make their infrastructure plans wildlife-friendly. This is the least they can do for the country’s wildlife, which is facing several challenges, from shrinking habitats to poaching.