An animal rights group on Friday filed a public interest litigation petition in the Gauhati High Court challenging the Assam government’s decision to transport four juvenile elephants, two of them females, in railway wagons to Ahmedabad in Gujarat for the annual Rath Yatra festival at the Jagannath temple on July 4.
Urmi Mala Das and Nandini Baruah, representing NGO Avinava Prayash, filed the PIL petition under Article 226 of the Constitution giving High Courts power to issue certain writs.
“Permission has been granted to list the PIL on Monday,” said Bhaskar Dev Konwar, appearing for the petitioners.
Another petition against the shifting of elephants was filed by Sangeeta Iyer, a Canada-based activist, before the High Court via email on Friday. The petition is yet to be accepted.
The order for dispatching the elephants is being processed by the Conservator of Forests (Eastern Assam Circle) after it was signed by Ranjana Gupta, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife). The elephants are to be transported from eastern Assam’s Tinsukia by train to Ahmedabad, covering 3,106 km.
The petitioners have contended that the decision of the State government is in violation of the relevant provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and relevant orders of the Supreme Court in this regard. Moreover, the dispatch of the elephants in railway wagons in the prevailing heatwave conditions in north Indian States, would subject the animals to extreme stress, pain and cruelty and they may not survive the long journey.
“The four elephants belong to private owners. It appears that two of the elephants were not captive born but were caught from the wild and domesticated. Microchips were implanted on the two elephants in June 2015 and ownership certificates for the said elephants have also been issued specially to facilitate their transportation to Ahmedabad,” the petitioners said.
The Indian elephant is a Schedule-I animal under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, and Section 9 of the Act prohibits their capture from the wild. Capturing of wild elephants is permitted only under very limited circumstances as provided in Section 11 and 12 of the Act.
The elephants in question are being transferred to Ahmedabad on a six-month lease.
The petitioners also contended that 53 elephants from Assam given on lease to other States have.nt been returned. The growth of a “big black marketing racket in regard to transportation of elephants from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh” has come to light, they said.