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'Religious Sentiments Must At Times Yield To Reason And Animal's Point Of View': Madras HC Admonishes Practice Of Mistreatment Of Temple Elephants, Issues Directions

Aaratrika Bhaumik
6 Sep 2021 6:46 AM GMT
Religious Sentiments Must At Times Yield To Reason And Animals Point Of View: Madras HC Admonishes Practice Of Mistreatment Of Temple Elephants, Issues Directions
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The Madras High Court on Friday directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) to prepare a catalogue of all captive elephants in the State. The Court further directed a video recording to be made of all elephants containing a complete profile of each elephant including its age, sex and also lineage including the manner in which the elephants came to be domesticated. A...

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 The Madras High Court on Friday directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF) to prepare a catalogue of all captive elephants in the State. The Court further directed a video recording to be made of all elephants containing a complete profile of each elephant including its age, sex and also lineage including the manner in which the elephants came to be domesticated.

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 Principal Chief Conservator of Forests will prepare a catalogue of all captive elephants in this State. Video-recordings of all such elephants, together with complete profile of each elephant, including the age, sex, lineage, if possible, should be indicated. Every endeavour should be made to indicate how the elephant came to be captured or domesticated. The exercise should be completed by obtaining video-recordings of all the captive elephants in the State and providing the profile features in course of such video-recording or otherwise", the Court observed.

It further directed the concerned forest officials to ascertain the current practice of capturing elephants and accordingly observed,

"The number of elephants available with the forest officials should be indicated with similar profile and the history of how the animal came to be captured or used by forest officials. It is also necessary to ascertain whether any practice continues in which elephants are captured today, if only for the purpose of use by forest officials; and the permissibility thereof."

The directions were issued after Elsa Foundation, an animal protection organisation gave a power point presentation to the Court claiming that all captive elephants in the State had been procured illegally and that there exists widespread abuse of authority by forest officials across the country who often engage in virtual trading of elephants.

Furthermore, in the plea it was contended that temple elephants including two elephants at the Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple were without regular mahouts and in grave distress. It was also pointed out that elephants kept in captivity by the forest officials were kept away from public view and severely ill-treated at forest camps.

During the course of the proceedings on Friday, the counsel representing Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple management had suggested that there was excess land near the temple and close to the Cauvery river where the elephants could be housed in a forest like habitat and thereafter taken to temples only for ceremonial purposes.

In response to this submission, the Bench pertinently observed,

"While the suggestion is a welcome departure, it is also time to re-think whether, in the light of the law in the country, elephants can be subjected to the ignominy of participating in temple celebrations or temple rituals and whether such activities are any better than elephants being used for begging on streets. Religious sentiments must, at times, yield to reason and the animal's point of view, if at all the same may be perceived, may also be taken into consideration upon obtaining scientific and expert advice in such regard."

Furthermore, the Bench directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests to ascertain the medical condition of the captivated temple elephants by observing,

"As far as the temple elephants are concerned, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests should assign appropriate officials, along with Doctors from the relevant areas, to inspect the elephants and ascertain the state of their health. This exercise may be conducted for all captive elephants in the State, but beginning with elephants in the temple"

The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests was also instructed to prepare a report in response to the presentation made by the Elsa Foundation highlighting how elephants are traded in by forest officials.

"At any rate, the video-recordings as sought by this order should also be accompanied by a small report detailing how the video-recording was prepared, so that an element of accountability and authentication is evident", the Bench further added.

The appropriate departments of the State Government such as the Animal Welfare or Animal Husbandry were instructed to extend all cooperation. The Animal Welfare Board of India or any State level corresponding body should be kept informed of the matters for rendering science based assistance in the conduct of this matter and the treatment of elephants and in particular and wildlife in general, the Bench ordered.

The matter is slated to be heard next on September 24.

Case Title: Rangarajan Narasimhan v. Chief Secretary

Click Here To Read/Download Order

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