Hearing to continue today
GUWAHATI: A division bench of the Gauhati High Court comprising Chief Justice (acting) Arup Kumar Goswami and Justice Manish Choudhury took up the hearing of the PIL seeking intervention of the High Court in regard to the decision of the State Government to transport/transfer on lease for six months, four elephants from Tinsukia in upper Assam to Ahmedabad in Gujarat for participating in the Annual Rath Yatra festival to be held from of July 4, 2019. The elephants will be kept in Gujarat up to December 12, 2019, and after that, they will be brought back to Assam with a valid transit pass issued by the appropriate authority.
The Chief Wildlife Warden, Assam Ranjana Gupta, by Office Order No 396 dated June 12, 2019 has observed that on furnishing an affidavit that the elephants in question namely, Joytara (female- DOB November 5, 2010), Babulal (male- DOB October 26, 2011), Rupsing (male- DOB July 3, 2013) and Rani (female- DOB April 24, 2013) is intended to be taken to Gujarat for religious purposes and on receipt of NOC from Gujarat CWLW permission has been granted u/s 40(2) of WLP Act to take the elephants to Gujarat as requested. The Conservator of Forests, ER Assam was accordingly directed to issue a transit pass after physical verification of the elephants and upon receipt of the required health certificate issued not more than 12 hours before the departure of the elephants by Government Veterinary Doctors certifying that the said elephant is fit to travel by road or rail and is not showing any sign of infectious or contiguous disease. The copies of the orders are marked to the owner of the elephants; Mahendra Jha (Managing Trustee, Shri Jagannath Temple, Ahmedabad, Gujarat); Additional Chief Secretary to the Government of Assam, Environment and Forest Department; PCCF and Head of Forest Force, Assam; etc. The hearing remains inconclusive today before the Court and will resume on Tuesday again (on July 25, 2019).
During the course of the hearing, the Division Bench asked for a clarification to be obtained from the appropriate authority of the Union of India by the ASGI SC Keyal in regard to the operation of the interim order dated May 4, 2016 passed by the Supreme Court wherein it was inter-alia directed “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 Division Bench also wanted a further clarification from the State Government in the Forest Department whether the Chief Wildlife Warden, Assam has taken note of interim order of the Supreme Court while passing the order dated June 12, 2019, for transporting the elephants. The Standing Counsel, Railway has produced an instruction from the authorities wherein a view has been taken that the interim order of the Supreme Court is in operation and therefore clarification was sought from the Forest Department, Assam.
Further, in regard to the letter dated March 8, 2019, of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Project Elephant Division issued to the PCCF and Chief Wildlife Warden of All States and Union Territories, reference was invited to the decision in the meeting held on May 29, 2018 wherein it was agreed that Inter-State movement of elephants would be restricted by the CWLW of the States as has been done by the State of Bihar with the approval of the respective State Board of Wildlife. By the said letter dated March 8, 2019, it was directed that all legal steps to be taken for the welfare of the Captive Elephants, etc and strict monitoring was directed to prevent illegal transport of elephants to and from the States.
Appearing for the petitioners, Senior Counsel Bhaskar Dev Konwar, have drawn the attention of the Court to the various provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the interim order dated June 4, 2016, of the Supreme Court. The basic contention urged before the Court is that the elephants have to face adverse climatic conditions at Gujarat and the grueling train journey, etc. He had also drawn the attention of the Court that unlike the State of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, the State of Assam is yet to frame rules for Management and Maintenance of Captive Elephants in terms of Section 64(2) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. On Monday, a 30 pages additional affidavit has been filed by the petitioners before the Court and the contents of paragraph Nos 63 has been read over wherein it is reported that the Jagannath Temple in Ahmedabad has the poorest record in Elephant Management. Further, to date, none of the elephants send outside have been returned back.
In contra, Additional AG Assam Dilip Mazumdar submitted that steps have been taken for transportation of the elephants from Assam to Gujarat in Air-Condition Wagons with all facilities for the elephants in terms of the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India and there is no intention to transport them by truck. The hearing of the case will resume again on Tuesday (June 25, 2019), a press release stated.