Gauhati HC puts onus on forest officials on elephants transfer issue

Disposing a PIL seeking its intervention in the transport on lease of four elephants from Assam to Gujarat, a division bench of Gauhati High Court on June 25 said that the safety of the pachyderms is of paramount importance and it was best left to the experts to be taken care of.

The division bench, comprising of chief justice (acting) Arup Kumar Goswami and justice Manish Choudhury, expressed that it is ill-fit to make any comment as to in what manner the elephants are to be transported.

But, before any such steps are taken the relevant circumstances have to be taken into consideration as the safety of the elephants is of paramount importance and this aspect has to be considered and be left to the experts. Therefore, this obligation was passed by the division bench to the principal chief conservator (Wildlife) and chief wild life warden, Assam.

The court was hearing a PIL seeking intervention of the high court in regard to the decision of the state government to transport on lease for six months four elephants from Tinsukia in upper Assam to Ahmedabad in Gujarat for participating in the Annual Rath Yatra festival to be held from July 4 next.

Apparently, in passing the order granting permission, it is not indicated that the heat-wave aspects have been considered.

Whether, it was necessary to take into consideration at that point of time, the court expressed no comments, but, since the issue has been raised in the PIL, the division bench is of the opinion that the chief wild life warden, Assam shall pass a fresh order considering all aspects of the transport of the elephants.

The additional advocate general, Assam, submitted that air-conditioned wagons for the transport of the elephants are not available as communicated to him by the standing counsel, railway department.

Therefore, the division bench directed that fresh orders may be passed on or before June 27 and the copy of the said order be furnished to the advocate for the petitioners on the day itself of passing of the order.

Bhaskar Dev Konwar, senior advocate appearing on behalf of the petitioners, submitted before the court that the order dated May 4, 2016, passed by the Supreme Court directing that the persons who are in possession of the elephants shall not transfer the elephants outside the state nor shall they part with the elephants by way of their transfer in any manner.

He contented that the chief wildlife warden while granting the permission did not consider this aspect of the matter and further from the order of the chief wildlife warden it also does not reflect that the distance to be covered and the prevailing heat-wave conditions was not taken into consideration.

The news of preparation for transporting four juvenile elephants, namely, Joytara (female), Babulal (male), Rupsingh (male) and Rani (female) from Tinsukia to Gujarat for religious purposes, animal rights activists of the state have been protesting such transfers as they will be exposed to extreme heat conditions over several days which would be gruelling and perilous to the elephants.

The PIL was filed by two animal rights activists of the state Nandini Baruah and Urmi Mala Das.

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