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Madras High Court Says Time Has Come To Stop Keeping Elephants In Captivity; May Conduct 'Alfresco' Hearing

Aaratrika Bhaumik
6 Aug 2021 4:39 AM GMT
Madras High Court Says Time Has Come To Stop Keeping Elephants In Captivity; May Conduct Alfresco Hearing
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The Madras High Court on Thursday issued a host of directions to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Chennai as well as the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (Department) to ensure the welfare of elephants kept in captivity in temples and elephant parks. The Court also indicated that it is planning to conduct an "alfresco hearing" in the presence of the...

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The Madras High Court on Thursday issued a host of directions to the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Chennai as well as the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department (Department) to ensure the welfare of elephants kept in captivity in temples and elephant parks.

The Court also indicated that it is planning to conduct an "alfresco hearing" in the presence of the captive elephants kept at temples, in order to discern how they are being treated by the concerned authorities.

A Bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu was adjudicating upon a plea filed by activist Rangarajan Narasimhan over the alleged inhumane treatment of captive elephants kept in temples across the State. 

The Court on Thursday took on record the report filed by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, Chennai as well as the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department containing information about the state of captive elephants in the State.

The petitioner pointed out to the Court that the Department as well as the temples own sufficient land for large pockets of natural habitats for elephants to be developed so that the captive elephants may be housed at such places and taken to the temples only for the performance of rituals at appropriate times.

Furthermore, the Court noted that although there is not sufficient data to arrive at a conclusion that elephants are being treated cruelly, however there exists a concern that the captive 'elephants are not always given the exposure to the natural habitat that they ought to have'.

The petitioner also brought to the notice of the Court that individual elephants are not being assigned mahouts which can be detrimental for them as the bond between an elephant and a mahout is lifelong and when mahouts are changed frequently, the elephants may react adversely.

Accordingly, the Court opined that it is high time for elephants to not be taken into custody anymore and thus issued the following direction,

"It is necessary for the officials in the Forest Department to obtain expert advice as to what the daily routines of captive elephants should be and coordinate with the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department or those responsible for running the temples where these elephants may be, to ensure a more ethical treatment of the large animals, even if it is accepted that elephants that have for long been in captivity cannot be released into the wild. It is also time to stop any further elephant being domesticated or taken into captivity, except in case of injury or like disability, and that, too, only by forest officials in special enclosures maintained within forest areas"

Furthermore, the Court directed Advocate Harsha Raj appearing on behalf of the State to convene meetings to resuscitate the District Level Committees and make such committees and their members interested in looking after the welfare of the elephants within their territorial jurisdictions. The temple authorities were also ordered to extend better treatment of animals in light of the complaints that these elephants are chained and kept standing for long hours.

"The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests should, in particular, take the initiative of ensuring the welfare of all captive elephants in the State, whether by conducting awareness programmes or reviving the regular functioning of the District Level Committees and for such purpose, if necessary, the doors of the Judicial Academies in Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai may be opened", the Court further ordered. 

Accordingly, the Principal Chief Conservator was asked to submit a status report on the next date of hearing indicating the availability of mahouts, particularly in respect of the two elephants in Srirangam; one elephant in Srivilliputtur; and, two elephants in Thirukkurungudi. The matter is slated to be heard on August 25

Case Title: Rangarajan Narasimhan v. Chief Secretary 

Click Here To Read/Download Order

Also Read: May Consider A Complete Prohibition On Elephants Being Kept As Captive Animals For Various Temple Duties: Madras High Court


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