In a bid to ensure a safe abode for wildlife in Jharkhand’s Palamau Tiger Reserve (PTR), railways and the state forest department will soon start a joint inspection to explore alternative routes outside its core area.
If everything goes as planned, the inspection to find out alternate routes for the two existing lines and a proposed third line outside the PTR core area is likely to be carried out this month, a forest department official said.
Wild animals such as elephants, leopards, grey wolves, gaur, sloth bears, four-horned antelopes, otters and pangolins can be found in the PTR. Two instances of tiger sightings were also reported in 2020 and this year.
The forest department has been protesting against the proposal of the third line for a freight corridor from Son Nagar in Bihar to Patratu in Jharkhand passing through the core area. An 11-km long railway track was proposed to be laid in the core area of the reserve.
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The forest department had raised concern arguing the proposed line will divide the reserve into two zones due to the frequency of trains and permanently fragment the habitat. It will badly impact the movements of wild animals.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) had also warned against construction of another railway line in the PTR in 2020. Later, the Jharkhand government took cognizance of the forest departments’ concern and sent a proposal to the Railways to shift the proposed line from the core area to the buffer zone of PTR.
”The railways gave its consent recently to explore the alternative alignment of the proposed third railway line and existing two lines outside the PTR core area. The railway tracks will be shifted to the buffer zone of the reserve,” PTR field director Kumar Ashutosh told PTI.
One of the first nine tiger reserves of the country during the inception of Project Tiger, PTR was constituted in 1974. Of the 1,129.93 sq km area of the PTR, 414.08 sq km is marked as the core area (critical tiger habitat) and the remaining part as the buffer zone. Of the total area, 226.32 sq km is designated as Betla National Park. In the buffer zone, 53 sq km is open for tourists.
The first railway track was laid in PTR in 1964 and the second one in 1974-75.
”The Railways and forest department officials are expected to carry out a joint inspection for shifting of the proposed third line and other two lines to the buffer area anytime in April,” Ashutosh said.
The wildlife experts have welcomed the move saying the initiative will reduce the pressure and disturbance in the core area.
Former state wildlife board member DS Srivastava said that shifting all three railway tracks from the core area will reduce casualties of wild animals in the region.
He said, “The existing two lines have caused the death of several wild animals in the reserve. In August 2020, five deer were mowed down by a goods train in the PTR. Some 15 elephants and several other animals like bison and deer were killed on the track in the past decade.” Even if the railway line is shifted from the core area, it will still be within the reserve area, which might impact movement of migratory elephants, Srivastava said. “I would request railways to provide adequate underpass in the reserve area for elephant movement,” Srivastava said.
The PTR which was teeming with tigers in the 1970s reported zero population in 2018. However, a tigress was found dead in February 2020, while a tiger was spotted roaming in the reserve last month.
The reserve recorded its highest tiger population in 1995 with 71 tigers. Thereafter, the population started declining. There were 44 in 1997, 34 in 2002, 10 in 2010 and three in 2014, according to a book written by a former principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), Jharkhand, Pradeep Kumar.