Assam government’s move to transport four elephants to Gujarat comes a cropper, at least for now
Gauhati HC bench asked clarification from Centre in regard to the operation of a 2016 SC interim order stating persons in possession of elephants shall not transfer them outside the state.
GUWAHATI: The Assam government’s move to transport four captive elephants to Ahmedabad for the Jagannath Rath Yatra on July 4 has come a cropper, at least for now.
Hearing separate petitions filed by Sangita Iyer, who is a Kerala-born wildlife journalist from Canada, and Avinava Prayash, a Guwahati-based NGO, a division bench of Gauhati High Court, comprising Chief Justice (acting) Arup Kumar Goswami and Justice Manish Choudhury, asked for a clarification from the Centre in regard to the operation of a 2016 interim order passed by the Supreme Court wherein it was inter-alia directed “…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 bench also wanted a further clarification from Assam’s forest department on whether the Chief Wildlife Warden (CWWL) Ranjana Gupta had taken note of the SC’s interim order when she had passed an order on last June 12 allowing the elephants’ transit.
“The Standing Counsel, Railway, has 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…
Further, in regard to the letter dated 08.03.2019 of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Project Elephant Division issued to the PCCF and Chief Wildlife Warden of all states and Union Territories, reference was invited to the decision in the meeting held on 29.05.2018 wherein 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. By the said letter dated 08.03.2019, it was directed that all legal steps to be taken for the welfare of the captive elephants, etc. and strict monitoring was directed to prevent illegal transport of elephants to and from the states,” the court said.
The petitioners’ counsel Bhaskar Dev Konwar had drawn the court’s attention to various provisions of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the 2016 interim order of the Supreme Court. The basic argument was that the elephants would face adverse climatic conditions in Gujarat and the grueling train journey etc. He said unlike Tamil Nadu and Kerala, Assam is yet to frame rules for management and maintenance of captive elephants in terms of Section 64 (2) of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Assam’s Additional Advocate General Dilip Mazumdar submitted before the court that steps had been taken for the elephants’ transportation in air-condition wagons with all facilities in terms of the guidelines issued by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests and there was no intention to transport them by truck. The hearing will resume on Tuesday
A senior railway official said elephants had never been transported in an air-condition railway coach. “The Indian Railways doesn’t have coaches with air-condition facility for the transportation of elephants,” he added.
Earlier, the railways made it clear that it would not dispatch the elephants by a train till some issues were resolved. It sought a “clarification” from Assam’s forest department on the Supreme Court order. It also said that dispatching the elephants would depend on the Gauhati HC’s judgement in the case.