Guwahati High Court to hear petition objecting to shifting elephants to Gujarat

Ahmedabad awaits the arrival of four elephants from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh before the Rath Yatra on July 4. Activists red flag the 3,100 Km journey and say it violates the law

Representative Image (PTI)
Representative Image (PTI)

NH Web Desk

Guwahati High Court on Monday will hear a petition challenging Assam Government’s decision to allow four elephants from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to be taken by train to Ahmedabad in Gujarat, 3,100 Kilometres away.

According to reports the request for four elephants to be transported was made by the Jagannath temple in Ahmedabad, which hosts the annual Rath Yatra, which is scheduled this year on July 4.

The procession is traditionally led by elephants and following the death of three of the 17 elephants with the temple last year, the temple requisitioned four elephants from the North East.

Animal Rights activists in Assam question the Assam Government’s alacrity in giving the permission, allegedly in violation of the Wildlife (Protection) Act and against Supreme Court’s guidelines on inter-state transfer of wild animals.

Elephants are Schedule one animals and section 9 of the Act prohibit their capture from the wild. The Act also prohibits private ownership, lending the animals on lease or any commercial transaction.

But activists in Assam claim that in the past several years as many as 53 elephants from the NE were leased for periods ranging from six months to one year. But none of them ever returned. An elephant, activists say, fetch between ₹12 to ₹16 lakh and the state government has turned a blind eye to the trade.

They also objected to the method of transporting the elephants. A Railway compartment is akin to a metal trap and elephants will suffer from insufficient space and water during the 70-hour journey. Sprinkling water on the elephants would make the floor slippery and chances of infection would be high. The elephants would also urinate and defecate during the journey and unless proper arrangements are made to clean the compartments regularly, it would be unhygienic to transport the elephants.

The petition to the High Court also point out that in the North-East even 28 degrees Celsius is deemed to be hot. How will the elephants survive temperatures hovering between 40 and 45 degrees Celsius, they asked.

Media reports suggest that the state government had sought expert opinion and were advised against the move. But Assam Government went ahead with it because of ‘pressure from high-ups’.

Media in Assam have reported that Veterinary doctors in the state, approached by the state government, have turned down the request to accompany the elephants on their journey.

Reports from Ahmedabad quote the Jagannath Temple authorities there as saying that they have no plans to include the four elephants in the procession this year. The new arrivals would take time to acclimatise with the weather first, they have been quoted as saying.

This implies that the elephants would stay in the temple permanently although the lease allowed by the Assam Government is for only six months.

Congress MP from the state Gaurav Gogoi raised the issue in Parliament and in a letter to the Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, he drew his attention to the ‘dangerous proposal’. The MP tweeted:

Apprised Environment Minister Shri @PrakashJavdekar ji about the dangerous proposal to move wild elephants from Assam to Ahmedabad for a religious function. Also raised the matter in Zero Hour today. People of Assam worship wildlife esp elephants. Our voice must be heard.

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