New Delhi | The Supreme Court today took note of pleas alleging cruelty meted out to captive elephants in Kerala, particularly in temples, and directed the top wildlife officer to undertake a headcount of all of them and act against those keeping them without the requisite permission.
As far as the present issue is concerned, we are inclined to direct that the Chief Wildlife Warden shall see to it that all the captive elephants existing in the State of Kerala are counted and in the absence of obtainment of requisite certificate under Section 42 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and the declaration made under Section 40, appropriate action shall be initiated against the owners, the bench of Justices Dipak Misra and R Banumathi said.
Dealing with charges of cruelty meted to the elephants in Kerala, the court said it would be the state’s obligation to see that registration of the pachyderms is carried out. It shall be the duty of the State, the District Committee, Management of the Devaswom, the Management of the Temple and the owners of the elephants to see that no elephant is meted with any kind of cruelty and, if it is found, apart from being lodging of criminal prosecution, they shall face severe consequences which may include confiscation of the elephants to the State, the bench said.
Referring to the Kerala Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules, it said on its perusal, it was clear as crystal that it obliges the District Committee to take necessary measures to ensure that the festival committee constituted for smooth conduct of the festivals or the persons organising such functions in which elephants are exposed are required to adhere to many a measure.
The District Committee is bound by the Rules and see to it that the festival committees follow the same. It asked temples or the Devaswom to get themselves registered with the district committee within six weeks to ensure that elephants are used properly in religious events. Elephants are used to participate in religious festivals and processions in Kerala and also to carry the deities.
We think that they should be registered with the Committee and accordingly it is directed that the registration shall be done within a period of six weeks from today. The temple and Devaswom shall, apart from other formalities, also mention how many elephants it is going to use in any festival, it said.
During the hearing, Solicitor General (SG) Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Centre and the counsel for Kerala told the bench that the elephants participating in religious festivals and processions carry the deities and are not covered under the statutory definition of performing animals and hence, do not need to be registered.
There is no ban on captive elephants taking part in religious festivals, the SG said. If elephants carry the deities, then there is no problem. But there should not be any cruelty towards them, the court said, adding that registration of elephants can be done under the rules framed under the Wildlife Protection Act. Earlier, the apex court had asked the Centre and others including Animal Welfare Board to ensure that no elephant is treated or meted with cruelty during religious festivals across the country.
The court had issued notice to the Centre, nine states and the Animal Welfare Board of India on the PIL seeking steps for protection and welfare of elephants held in captivity including a complete ban on their sale, gifting and use in religious festivals. The PIL, filed by six organisations and individuals including Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, has said that the number of captive elephants kept by private persons and religious institutions stood at over 3,000.
The figure of captive elephants is more than those which are with the forest department, zoos and circus and they were being traded openly and subjected to cruelty in violation of laws like the Wild Life (Protection) Act and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, it had contended.
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