GUWAHATI: In what is an emotive issue for Assam, the Gauhati High Court will take a call on petitions challenging the transportation of elephants to Gujarat by train.
A Kerala-born wildlife journalist from Canada has moved the court to thwart Assam government’s bid to transport four elephants from the state’s Tinsukia to Ahmedabad for the Jagannath Rath Yatra on July 4. In an instant writ petition, she urged the court to immediately stop the animals’ transportation.
The petitioner, Sangita Iyer, told the court that the jumbos would be transported by a train as though they were commodities. Assam’s forest department has already approved transportation while the Gujarat government has issued the no-objection certificate.
“It is a gruelling 96-hour journey under extreme heat. These juvenile elephants are incapable of handling the brutal temperatures hovering at 50 degrees Celsius. They are also being transported in a cooped-up metal bogey which will heat up considerably. It is a four-day perilous journey that will cause unimaginable suffering to these sentient beings, as they will be inside a goods train container with absolutely no air conditioning or other ventilation provisions. The railway department has warned that there are no air-conditioned wagons to transport elephants, and the open wagons pose the risk of electrocution, as elephants tend to involuntarily stretch their trunk to smell, feel and sense the surroundings,” Iyer wrote in the petition.
She said the key issue under consideration in the case was that India was under the spell of a horrific heat-wave that was killing people.
“Considering human physiology and biology, humans can regulate their body temperatures, as they can release excess heat through pores. However, elephants do not have sweat glands nor do they have pores. Consequently, they cannot release the heat from their body. Under such extreme heat conditions, their internal body temperatures could surpass dangerous levels, potentially causing collapse and sudden death. Elephants cool off by soaking in mud pools, dipping in lakes, splashing mud and water, and constantly fanning their ears. However, in a cooped-up container, travelling under intense heat for four days they will not only be dehydrated, but could also potentially die from a heat stroke,” Iyer wrote.
She said instead of protecting the four elephants, Assam’s forest officials were acting in bad faith. She said it was evident from media reports that high political pressure steered the decisions of the forest officials who abused the Wildlife Protection Act.
The activist said the four juvenile elephants would have to get used to the new surroundings and they would not be given the respect in their new location as they would be suddenly participating in the Rath Yatra, and exposed to the boisterous crowds in the temple, which they are not used to in Assam. Under such circumstances, she pointed out that the elephants would become easily spooked and they would attack the devotees or run amok, posing a serious public safety threat.
Iyer urged the court to direct stringent action against the persons who had violated the law in respect of procurement, maintenance and use of elephants and to penalize them in accordance with law. Through her petition, she submitted materials regarding the science of elephant behaviour and the fact that the international reputation of Assam could be tarnished due to such inhumane treatment of elephants in the name of culture and heritage.
Earlier, Avinava Prayash, a Guwahati-based NGO, filed a PIL before the court challenging the Assam government’s action.