Activists are keeping up the pressure on the Assam government regarding its recent decision to transport four elephants from Tinsukia to Ahmedabad for the Jagannath temple’s Rath yatra next month.
On Monday, the Assam government gave a green signal to this step by issuing a transit permit order for the movement of four individually-owned captive elephants from Assam to Gujarat by a non-AC train wagon — a decision that has drawn flak from wildlife activists.
Senior Advocate Gauhati High Court Bhaskar Dev Konwar will appear on behalf of the petitioners, animal rights activist and member of Avinava Prayash Urmi Mala Das and fashion designer Nandini Baruah. Permission has been granted to list the PIL No. (39/2019) as Item No 20 before a Division Bench of Gauhati High Court on Monday, June 24.
“Just because the papers are legally right, it is not the right time or right way to do this,” said Barua, who has been working with street animals in Guwahati for the past six years.
The PIL — on the basis of media reports — also challenges the government’s claims that the elephants are captive-born.
Apart from highlighting the stress and pain of the journey, the petitioners, also are of the view that the government stands to violate the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 if there is money involved in the transfer.
Award-winning wildlife journalist and conservationist Canada-based Sangita Iyer also weighed in: “What they are doing is the antithesis of Hinduism. While I respect cultural and religious celebrations, there is no scripture that purports that elephants can be used for such functions. Moreover, the heat will affect the elephants more as they don’t have sweat glands like humans do. So they cannot release the heat from their body.” Iyer’s film God in Shackles exposes the dark reality of exploitation that caparisoned elephants in temples of India face.
The pressure on the government has come from other quarters too. On Thursday, Kaliabor MP from Assam Gaurav Gogoi wrote to the Union Environment and Forest Minister Prakash Javadekar urging the Centre to rethink their decision. “Transportation of animals is always risk prone. Many wildlife activists have opposed the decision of the state government,” wrote Gogoi in his letter.
But it’s not just wildlife activists alone.
As per the rulebook of the Indian Railways, a skilled veterinarian must accompany the animals being transported, failing which the authorities will not be able to execute the request. Several veterinarians, who were requested to accompany the pachyderms, have refused to participate.
Caparisoned elephants are an integral part of the rath yatra in Ahmedabad, which starts from the Jagannath temple. However, earlier confirmed that the new elephants (from Assam) may not participate in the current yatra but act as replacements of the three elephants the temple lost from its herd of 20 elephants last year due to age.
***Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Sangita Iyer filed an instant writ petition at the Gauhati High Court.