NGO files PIL in GHC to stop govt from transferring elephants to Gujarat
GUWAHATI: The Assam government had given the go-ahead for four captive elephants to undertake a perilous 70-hour journey from Assam to Gujarat to take part in a religious function in Ahmedabad. The Jagannath Temple in Ahmedabad which hosts the annual Rath Yatra, had sought these elephants to fill in for those that died last year.
A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) has been filed at the Gauhati High Court to restrain Assam government from transferring/dispatching the four elephants from Tinsukia to Ahmedabad for the annual festival that’s scheduled to be held on July 4, 2019.
“Avinava Prayash” an NGO of Guwahati, represented by its Secretary Urmi Mala Das and Nandini Baruah (both animal rights activists) have filed a PIL on Friday, June 21, under Article 226 of the Constitution of India challenging the action of the government of Assam, in the Forest Department, which has taken a decision to transfer on lease four elephants, including two females, and to transport them by railway wagons from Tinsukia to Ahmedabad.
Senior Advocate Bhaskar Dev Konwar is appearing for the petitioners and permission has been granted to list the PIL on June 24, Monday.
The petitioners have contended that the decision of the state government is in violation of the relevant provisions of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 and relevant orders of the Supreme Court of India in this regard. Moreover, dispatch of the elephants in railway wagons in the prevailing heat-wave conditions in north Indian states, would subject the animals to extreme stress, pain and cruelty and they may not survive the long journey of 3,106 kms, which would take several days to traverse.
The order for dispatching the elephants was signed by the Chief Wildlife Warden & Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wild Life), Assam, and the Conservator of Forests, (Eastern Assam Circle), Jorhat is looking after the entire process of transporting the elephants.
Sources from the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) have confirmed that they received an application on Tuesday to transport the four pachyderms from Tinsukia in upper Assam to Ahmedabad, along with an advance of Rs 1,500.
A source in the railway department informed G Plus that the elephants will be taken in a VP coach (a closed non-AC wagon roughly the size of passenger coach usually used to transport goods) which will be attached to a passenger train. The NFR officials confirmed that there will be provisions of water and a vet will be accompanying the animals on board.
“All of the four elephants belong to private owners. Out of the four, DNA profiling of two hasn’t been done and the Assam government has shown undue haste in micro-chipping them,” a wildlife stakeholder, under condition of anonymity, told G Plus.
He added that the bigger issue, however, is that if the elephants in question are being transferred to Ahmedabad in Gujarat by way of lease, and if there is any money or other consideration involved in the transfer, it would be in violation of Section 43 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act.
The petitioners have also contended in the PIL that 53 elephants from Assam who have been given on lease to outside states have not been returned. A big black marketing racket in regard to transportation of elephants from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh has grown which has come to light. The lease period was for six months, nine months and one year respectively, but, even after expiry the elephants were not transported back.
Wildlife activists criticise Assam Forest dept's decision to transport elephants to Ahmedabad
The Assam government’s move to transport four elephants, confirmed in a transit permit order issued by Assam’s Chief Conservator of Forest (Jorhat circle) Ranjan Kumar Das and signed by the Chief Wildlife Warden and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Ranjana Gupta, has drawn the ire of wildlife activists across the nation.
PETA India, a popular animal rights organisation, has questioned Assam Forest Department’s decision to transport four elephants from Assam to Ahmedabad to take part in the Rath Yatra at Jagannath temple.
Manilal Valliyate, CEO and Veterinarian of PETA India said that transporting the elephants is an apparent violation of the Supreme Court’s directive which states in an order on May 4, 2016 that persons who are in possession of elephants shall not transfer the animals out of state or part with them by way of transfer.
“Abused elephants would never bless, only curse their abusers,” the CEO added.
Valliyate further stated that experts have also warned of the dangers of transporting the elephants for such a long distance, forcing them to work in the heat and also of the risk of these animals ending up in illegal wildlife trade.
He also explained that PETA recommends the use of mechanical elephants or other humane approaches instead of real elephants in processions or events because captive elephants are kidnapped from their families, trained and controlled through inhumane methods such as beatings and are also kept chained.
“In the days preceding the move, the forest department reached out to several experts in the state to weigh in on the matter. Despite warnings and dissuasion, the government has given the green signal. This foolhardy action is an eye opener to the workings of the bureaucracy without heeding the opinions of the experts,” said a wildlife expert.
Similarly, members of the opposition Congress party have also raised concerns over the matter.
Assam MP Gaurav Gogoi requested Union Environment and Forest Minister Prakash Javadekar to immediately stop the process of transportation of four elephants from Assam to Gujarat.
“Transportation of animals is always risk-prone. Many wildlife activists have opposed the decision of the state government,” Gogoi said in a letter to Javadekar.
However, officials in the forest department continue to remain tight-lipped.