A Public Interest Litigation filed in Gauhati High Court on Friday challenges the move to transport four elephants from Assam to Gujarat via rail for parading in the Rath Yathra to be held at Jagannath Temple at Ahmedabad on July 4.
The petition filed NGO Avinava Prayash,represented by its Secretary, Urmi Mala Das and Nandini Baruah challenges the permission granted by Assam Forest Department for transportation of four juvenile elephants including two females to Ahmedabad.
Another petition has been filed by animal rights activist Sangita Iyer, an Overseas Citizen of India, pointing out that the jumbos will not be able to withstand the grueling 96 hour journey from Guwahati to Ahmedabad, when parts of north India are grappling with immense heat wave.
"It is a four-day perilous journey, that will cause unimaginable suffering to these sentient beings, as they will be inside a goods train container with absolutely no air conditioning or other ventilation provisions. The railway department has warned that there are no air conditioned wagons to transport elephants, and the open wagons pose the risk of electrocution, as elephants tend to involuntarily stretch their trunk to smell, feel and sense the surroundings", states the petition.
Iyer, who has directed an award winning documentary "Gods in Shackles" highlighting the tortures meted to elephants in South India, says in the petition that elephants do not have sweat glands nor do they have pores, consequently they cannot release heat from their body. Under such extreme conditions, their internal body temperatures could surpass dangerous levels, potentially causing collapse and sudden death. Elephants cool off by soaking in mud pools, dipping in lakes, splashing mud and water, and constantly fanning their ears. However, in a cooped-up container, traveling under intense heat for four days, they will not only be dehydrated, but could also potentially die from a heat stroke.
The petition alleges that the two out of four juvenile elephants, owned by private parties, were no captive born and were captured from wild illegally and domesticated. The petitioners seek to stop the transportation of the elephants till the weather is conducive and the legal status of the two elephants, allegedly captured from the wild, is established.
The Indian elephant is a Schedule I animal under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, and Section 9 prohibits capture of the animal from the wild. As per Section 11, capture of a wild animal is permissible only if there is a threat to human life.
The High Court is likely to consider the matter on Monday.
Meanwhile, 'The Hindu' has reported that the North East Frontier Railway has opted to await the Court order before taking the the pachyderms for the 3,106 Kilometers journey.