The Court Intervenes for the Welfare of Captive Elephants

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A Shaheed || April 24, 2015.
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It was when the cruelty meted out to captive elephants by both their mahouts and owners came to light that the Kerala Government enacted the Captive Elephant Management Rules.

The elephants are to be cared for properly according to these Rules and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Not adhering to these is a punishable offence.

Yet, the law is being broken with impunity. The Honorable Supreme Court and many High Courts including the Kerala High Court have intervened in these cases and have made it amply clear that these animals have to be protected and cared for as cited in the rules and laws. The Forest Department has always announced that the law will be enforced strictly, but these announcements have remained a lip sservice only.

The Kerala Government enacted the Captive Elephant Management Rules in 2003. These Rules very clearly stipulated how captive elephants need to be cared for. Some of the important excerpts are as follows

  1. Mahouts engaged for a elephant should have at least 3 years of experience. (Rule 3 (1) )
  2. The experience of the mahout shall be certified by the officer authorised for the purpose by the Chief Wildlife Warden . (Rule 3 (2) )
  3. The owner shall provide a stable (tethering place) in a clean and healthy environment with sufficient shade to keep elephants during its rest period; . (Rule 4 (1) )
  4. A Veterinarian will conduct routine examinations and any instructions & advice given by the doctor will be adhered to. (Rule 5 3) )
  5. The elephant will be provided sufficient feed and water as it needs. (Rule 6)
  6. Owners will ensure that the elephants will not be subjected to unnecessary stress during festivals or ceremonies and that they will be shielded from Noise (Rule 12)
  7. The owners will also ensure that the elephant is not over-worked at ceremonies by not allowing it to be paraded for more than the allowed time prescribed in these rules. (Rule 12)
  8. The elephant will not be made to walk for more than 3 hours at a stretch (Rule 8 (6) ) and for more than 30 Kms in a day (Rule 8 (8) )

Any action, which causes pain to the elephant, even if it is by the mahout, it will be, considers an offence under the Rules and Act. The elephants shouldn’t be chained unnecessarily. Yet, elephants being made to walk with bleeding or oozing abscesses are almost a common sight today. There are many incidents of drunk mahouts inflicting pain and injury on the wards. It was with all these incidents in mind that the Kerala Government enacted the Kerala Captive Elephant Management Rules of 2003. Kerala is the first such state to enact this kind of a set of Rules.

Animal activists and lovers have filed petitions in the High Court every time the Law has been broken or not adhered to. The Court has, on many occasions prescribed the solutions or given strict directives. The Court has issued very strict directives on how elephants need to be transported during the festival season.

The last order issued by the High Court is as follows.

People For Animals (PFA) Trivandrum had petitioned the High Court that the two elephants – Parashala Sivasankaran and Neyyattinkara Kannan were being housed in deplorable and unhealthy conditions by the Travancore Devaswom Board and that the TDB has broken the law and sought the intervention of the Court for the safety and welfare of these two elephants.

The Court issued a order to the Forest Department to immediately start the necessary and emergency medical care for the affected elephants and to, if necessary, move them to a more healthy environment as well.

The Department who was bound to follow and implement the Rules did not do so. Hence, the Court was constrained to intervene and instruct the Animal Welfare Board of India to take cognizance and monitor the situation.

Bangalore based Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre has filed a petition in the Supreme Court to draw the attention of the Hon. Court to deplorable conditions of the temple elephants. The Court will be hearing the petition soon.

It was when the Court heard the primary arguments of the petition that, the Court realized that there were nearly 60 captive elephants under the ownership of Guruvayur temple and the court sought more information on the conditions of the same. A high level committee deputed by the Central Government investigated the matter and submitted its finding which showed that the elephants there were housed in appalling, unhygienic and unhealthy conditions. There are tons of waste and pollution in the Punnathur Kota.

Several South Indian states including Kerala have been named respondents in this petition in the Supreme Court. The petition also highlights the torture meted out on these animals after chaining them.

The Forest Department is turning a blind eye towards all the cruelty that is being meted out to the elephants. The Department is left fumbling for an answer, as various Media reports are exposing these incidents with regularity.

The Department has been going through the motions and gone ahead to file 162 cases in the last five years against the mahouts and elephant owners. There are elephants in Kerala who are partially blind owing to the cruelty meted out to them by these mahouts. One such elephant is the famous Thechikottukavu Ramachandran from Thrissur. He is a ‘celebrity’, ‘super-star’ elephant, known across Kerala, standing at 10 feet and 4 inches in height. But he is a killer – he has killed 10 people, including 5 mahouts since 1988.

Are elephants being cared for effectively? The Animal Welfare Board of India has the responsibility to monitor that. Off-late the Board has been quite active in the case of elephants. However, the question remains – is that alone enough!?

Translated by Subru

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