Gauhati HC
Gauhati HC building and (right) Babulal, one of the four elephants supposed to be sent from Tinsukia to Ahmedabad. Image credit - Bar&Bench/Northeast Now

The transportation of four elephants from Assam’s Tinsukia in train to Ahmedabad has been put on hold and the Gauhati High Court on Tuesday directed the state forest department to issue a fresh order considering all aspects and safety of the elephants.

The Division Bench of Gauhati HC comprising Chief Justice (Acting) Arup Kumar Goswami and Justice Manish Choudhury disposed of the PIL seeking intervention of the HC regarding the state government’s decision to transport on lease 4 elephants to participate in the Annual Rath Yatra to be held at Jagannath Temple in Ahmedabad from July 4, 2019.

The Division Bench directed that fresh orders may be passed on or before June 27, 2019 and the copy of the said order be furnished to Bhaskar Dev Konwar, senior advocate for the petitioners on the day itself of passing of the order.

Also read: Transfer of elephants: Gauhati HC seeks clarification from Centre

The Division Bench after hearing the PIL (No. 39/2019) on Tuesday expressed that it is ill-fit to make any comment as to in what manner the elephants are to be transported.

According to information, it was planned to transport the four elephants in train. But the move of the state government to transport the elephants amidst heat wave was vehemently opposed by wildlife activists and the case reached the floor of the Gauhati HC.

Also read: Desperate “middlemen” strive to transport 4 elephants by road to Ahmedabad

The Division Bench observed that before any such steps are taken the relevant circumstances have to be taken into consideration in mind as the safety of the elephants is of paramount importance and this aspect has to be considered and be left to the experts.

The Division Bench was of the opinion that the chief wildlife warden, Assam, shall pass a fresh order considering all aspects of the transport of the elephants.

Also read: PIL in Gauhati High Court against transfer of 4 elephants to Ahmedabad

The standing counsel of the Railways submitted, it has come to the notice of the Railway authorities that the Supreme Court had passed an order restricting transport of animals from one state to another state.

In this regard, the Railways sought a clarification from the forest department, but since no response was received, the Railways had decided to keep the transit permits on hold.

Earlier, the authorities concerned did not consider the aspect of heat wave while passing the order granting permission for transportation of the elephants. And, this issue was raised by the petitioners in their PIL.

The additional advocate general, Assam, submitted that air conditioned wagons for the transport of the elephants are not available as communicated to him by the standing counsel of the Railways.

Senior advocate Bhaskar Dev Konwar submitted before the court that the order, issued on May 4, 2016 passed by the Supreme Court, directed that the persons, who are in possession of the elephants, shall not transfer the elephants outside the state nor shall they part with the elephants by way of their transfer in any manner.

According to Konwar, the chief wildlife warden, Assam, while granting the permission did not consider this aspect of the matter and the further order of the chief wildlife warden does not reflect the distance to be covered.

Konwar also said the prevailing heat-wave condition has also not been taken into consideration in the chief wildlife warden’s order.

The additional advocate general of Assam had submitted that the authority concerned passing orders for transportation of the elephants was alive of the order of the Supreme Court though not mentioned in the order and the submission is based on the interaction with the concerned officer with their counsel(s).

The assistant solicitor general of India submitted before the court that though he asked for instruction from the authorities concerned of the central government, it was orally communicated to him that some instruction is likely to be sent to the state government.

The court was of the opinion that the interim order of the Supreme Court ought to have been reflected in the order of the chief wildlife warden of Assam.

The PIL was filed by two animal rights activists of the state – Nandini Baruah and Urmi Mala Das seeking the HC’s intervention stating that such transfer of the elephants will be exposed to extreme heat conditions over several days which would be gruelling and perilous to the elephants.

It would subject them to unnecessary pain and suffering and the same is cruelty to animals within the meaning of section 11(d)(e) and (f) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.


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