New Delhi | The Supreme Court has restrained Kerala government from issuing ownership certificates to elephant owners. A bench comprising justices Dipak Misra and S K Singh also directed that people in possession of elephants do not transfer the pachyderms outside the state.
The apex court made it clear that if any ownership certificate has been issued, the same shall be withdrawn subject to the final verdict of the Supreme Court. We think it apt to direct that the state government shall not issue any ownership certificate to any of the persons in possession of elephants. That apart, the persons who are in possession of elephants shall not transfer the elephants outside the state nor shall they part with the elephants by way of transfer in any manner, the bench said.
The direction came on two applications moved on a PIL, filed by six organisations and individuals including Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, which said the number of captive elephants kept by people and religious institutions stood at over 3,000.
The two applications alleged that the elephants, used for religious processions or rides, were chained and ill-treated in violation of the statutory provisions and sought quashing of a Kerala government notification dated February 26 which offered an amnesty period for those keeping 289 captive elephants without valid ownership certificates.
During the hearing, advocate Aparna Bhat, appearing for Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre, said the state government under the Wild Life Protection Act, 1972 has no authority to issue such a notification.
The counsel for the Kerala government referred to Section 40(4) of the Act to highlight that the state government can make a declaration subject to certain conditions and it has jurisdiction to issue an amnesty scheme. Taking note of the submissions, the bench said it would deal with the issues raised in the application at the final stage of hearing.
Earlier, the apex court had asked the Centre and several states including Kerala and Goa to apprise it on whether a person can keep an elephant in his custody as the owner under the wildlife protection laws.
The direction came after Animal Welfare Board submitted a report regarding the upkeep of three elephants and alleged violation of Wild Life Protection Act by two resorts in Goa. Senior advocate C A Sundaram appearing for Animal Welfare Board in its report had mentioned 10 aspects pertaining to apparent violation of animal protection laws and guidelines and made recommendations for the upkeep of elephants.
On December 8, the apex court had sought reply from the Centre, Rajasthan and Goa on pleas alleging that cruelty was being meted out to elephants used for such rides in these states. The court had taken note of pleas alleging cruelty meted out to captive elephants in Kerala, particularly in temples, and directed the top wildlife officer to undertake a head count of all of them and act against those keeping them without the requisite permission.
Kerala had informed the court that there are total 599 privately-owned elephants in the state, out of which 289 have no declared owners under the Wildlife Act. The court had directed the Chief Wildlife Warden to ensure that all captive elephants in Kerala are counted and registered. Elephants are used to participate in religious festivals and processions in Kerala and also to carry the deities.
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