WILDLIFE: Forest fails to stop wild straying – and understandably low on funds too with Bengal going steadily bankrupt ?!!
FROM THE TLEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT
Siliguri, Nov. 30: Forest minister Ananta Roy today admitted his department’s inability to keep animals confined to the jungles, attributing it to the burgeoning population of the wildlife.
Roy, who was here to attend a programme, said: “We feel the elephant population in north Bengal will cross the 550-mark after the recently concluded census data is collated. There has been a steady growth in elephant population over the past few years. Same is the case with gaurs (Indian bison) and leopards, whose figures are 3,500 and 3,000 respectively in north Bengal.”
According to the 2008 census, there were 350-400 elephants, about 2,500 gaurs and around 2,750 leopards in north Bengal.
“Considering the rise in wildlife population, it is definitely a problem for the department to keep the animals, particularly the herbivores, within the forest areas,” the minister said. “These animals are bound to enter the fringe areas. We are contemplating improving the vegetation to provide them with ample fodder as well as increasing the forest cover. The number of wildlife squads and other infrastructure will also be increased.”
The existing forest area in north Bengal is around 3,100sqkm.
According to the minister, the increase in animal population is a key concern of foresters worried about frequent elephants deaths on train tracks. “Unless the railways adopt alternative proposals like double-laning the New Jalpaiguri-Falakata-Cooch Behar route and halt movement of goods trains on the Dooars route at night, elephants and other animals will continue to die,” he said.
Asked about the steps taken against the railways, Roy cited a verdict from a Dehradun court and demanded the intervention of the judiciary.
On Friday, a Dehradun court convicted Vijay Pal, a train driver, of violating speed restrictions on the Dehradun-Haridwar route that led to the deaths of three elephants, including a calf, 12 years ago. He was sentenced to three years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000.
The minister said in north Bengal, his department filed FIRs against the railways after every elephant death. “We want the judiciary to attach similar priority to these cases. As the railways are not listening to us, there is no other alternative but to seek judicial intervention.”
Roy, who has opposed the railways’ move to extend lines to Bhutan through the Dooars forest and suggested construction of flyovers to avoid track deaths, said: “We know that the construction of elevated tracks or flyovers involves a huge cost but there is no other alternatives. We are also bound by our commitment to save forests and conserve wildlife.”