By Saptarishi Dutta
The high number of wild elephants killed in railway accidents in recent months, have pushed Sanjeeb Panigrahi, a 37-year-old lawyer, to take up this cause on their behalf.
In February, Mr. Panigrahi filed a petition with his journalist friend to India’s Supreme Court against the ministries of railways and environment and several state governments, who he said haven’t done enough to prevent elephant deaths caused by trains or by electrocution on railways tracks.
Mr. Panigrahi is alarmed by the rising number of elephants killed in railway accidents, with at least 10 deaths since December, according to news reports.
In a speech to Parliament last month, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal said his department will work with the ministry of environment to reduce the number of elephant deaths.
Earlier, Environment Minister Jayanthi Natarajan said her ministry plans to introduce electronic tags on elephants to track their movements and help avoid accidents.
India has one of the largest populations of wild Asian elephants in the world. According to government data, India has around 26,000 elephants, more than half of the global Asian elephant population.
The Indian government in 1992 launched Project Elephant with the aim of protecting elephants and their natural habitat.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature, an organization that works for environment conservation, considers elephants endangered species.
In an interview with India Real Time, Mr. Panigrahi talks about why he took up this cause, what can be done to prevent elephant deaths, and why people should even care. Edited excerpts.
The Wall Street Journal: What made you feel so strongly about elephants?
Sanjeeb Panigrahi: I was travelling from Behrampur to Bhubaneswar [in the state of Orissa]. In the previous night an accident happened and six elephants died. The dead bodies were lying on the track side. That scene can’t be explained. It’s a horrific scene. Any sensitive human being will feel very sad. Elephants have a huge cultural value for us. I have a very soft spot for elephants and other animals. This led me to fight the case. More....