After hearing a PIL seeking intervention of the Gauhati High Court regarding the decision of the government to transport four elephants from Tinsukia to Ahmedabad, the HC sought a clarification from the Centre.
The PIL (No 39/2019) was heard by the Division Bench of Gauhati High Court comprising Chief Justice (acting) Arup Kumar Goswami and Justice Manish Choudhury.
The case reached the High Court after wildlife activists unanimously opposed the move to transport the elephants to Ahmedabad on train amidst the heat wave.
The elephants are supposed to participate in the annual Rath Yatra to be held at Jagannath Temple in Ahmedabad from July 4, 2019.
During the course of the hearing, the Division Bench asked Assistant Solicitor General of India S.C. Keyal to obtain a clarification from the appropriate authority of the central government in regard to the operation of the interim order dated May 4, 2016 passed by the Supreme Court.
In that SC order it was inter-alia directed “that apart, the persons who are in possession of elephants shall not transfer the elephants outside the State nor shall they part with the elephants by way of transfer in any manner”.
The Division Bench also wanted a further clarification from the Forest department of Assam whether the chief wildlife warden, Assam has taken note of the interim order of the Supreme Court while passing the order dated June 12, 2019 for transporting the elephants.
The standing counsel, Railways produced an instruction from the authorities wherein a view has been taken that the interim order of the Supreme Court is in operation and therefore clarification was sought from the Forest Department, Assam.
The elephants, which will be kept in Gujarat up to December 12, 2019, are supposed to be brought back to Assam with a valid transit pass issued by the appropriate authority.
Ranjana Gupta, the chief wildlife warden, Assam by office order No. 396 issued on June 12, 2019, furnishing an affidavit observed that the elephants– Joytara (female), born on November 5, 2010); Babulal (male), born on October 26, 2011; Rupsing (male), born on July 3, 2013) and Rani (female), born on April 24, 2013 – are to be taken to Gujarat for religious purposes.
Gupta in the affidavit mentioned that on receipt of NOC from Gujarat CWLW, permission has been granted under section 40(2) of WLP Act to take the elephants to Gujarat as requested.
The conservator of forests, eastern region, Assam, was accordingly directed to issue a transit pass after physical verification of the elephants and upon receipt of the required health certificate issued not more than 12 hours before the departure of the elephants by government veterinary doctors.
The veterinarians must certify that the said elephant is fit to travel by road or rail and is not showing any sign of infectious or contiguous disease.
The copies of the orders have also been marked to the owners of the elephants; Mahendra Jha, managing trustee, Shri Jagannath Temple, Ahmedabad, Gujarat; additional chief secretary to the government of Assam, Environment and Forest department; PCCF and the head of Forest Force, Assam.
However, the hearing remained inconclusive on Monday and it will resume again on Tuesday (June 25, 2019).
Further, in regard to a letter issued on March 8, 2019 by the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Project Elephant Division to the PCCF and Chief Wildlife Warden of All States and Union Territories, reference was invited to the decision in the meeting held on May 29, 2018.
In that meeting it was agreed that inter-state movement of elephants would be restricted by the CWLW of the states as has been done by the state of Bihar with the approval of the respective State Board of Wildlife.
Through the said letter, it was directed that all legal steps to be taken for the welfare of the ‘captive elephants’ and strict monitoring was directed to prevent illegal transport of elephants to and from the states.
Appearing for the petitioners, senior counsel Bhaskar Dev Konwar drew the attention of the court to the various provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the interim order dated June 4, 2016 of the Supreme Court.
The basic contention urged before the court was that the elephants have to face adverse climatic conditions in Gujarat and the gruelling train journey.
Konwar also drew the attention of the court that unlike the state of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the state of Assam is yet to frame rules for Management and Maintenance of Captive Elephants in terms of Section 64(2) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
On Monday, a 30-page additional affidavit was filed by the petitioners before the court and the contents of paragraph Nos. 63 has been read over wherein it is reported that the Jagannath Temple in Ahmedabad has the poorest record in elephant management.
Further till date, none of the elephants sent outside Assam have been returned back.
In contra, Dilip Mazumdar, additional attorney general of Assam, submitted that steps have been taken for transportation of the elephants from Assam to Gujarat in air-conditioned wagons with all facilities for the elephants in terms of the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India and there is no intention to transport them by truck.