Ensure captive elephants are looked after well, Madras HC tells Tamil Nadu government


The bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu passed this order while hearing a petition filed by Rangarajan Narasimhan. In the petition, a report has been filed by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, Chennai indicating the state of captive elephants in the state.

The Madras High Court on Thursday directed the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Tamil Nadu to ensure the welfare of elephants kept in captivity in temples and elephant parks.
The bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice P.D. Audikesavalu passed this order while hearing a petition filed by Rangarajan Narasimhan. In the petition, a report has been filed by the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, Chennai indicating the state of captive elephants in the state.
The petitioner makes out a case that there is sufficient land owned by the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department or by the temples under such Department’s control for large pockets of natural habitats for elephants to be developed, so that captive elephants may be housed at such places and taken to temples only for the performance of rituals at appropriate times.
The Court observed, “There appears to be a lot of concern and the court may not have sufficient data to arrive at a conclusion that the captive elephants are treated cruelly, except that the captive elephants are not always given the exposure to the natural habitat that they ought to have. The petitioner has made several complaints pertaining to individual elephants, how they are treated and the problem of every elephant not being assigned a mahout.
According to the petitioner, the bonding that develops between an elephant and mahout is lifelong and, oftentimes, when mahouts are changed or the erstwhile mahout is discontinued, the elephant concerned may react adversely.”
The Court said, “It is necessary for the officials in the Forest Department to obtain expert advice as to what the daily routines of captive elephants should be and coordinate with the Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department or those responsible for running the temples where these elephants may be, to ensure a more ethical treatment of the large animals, even if it is accepted that elephants that have for long been in captivity cannot be released into the wild.”
The Court held, “Harsha Raj, appearing for the State and the official respondents, shows a keen interest in the big animal. Harsha Raj should use his good offices to convene meetings to resuscitate the District Level Committees and make such committees and their members interested in looking after the welfare of the elephants within their territorial jurisdictions.
The temple authorities may also explore possibilities of better treatment of the animals, particularly as there are several reports which indicate that these elephants are chained and kept standing for hours together.
It is possible that in the larger interest of the elephants, the hearing of the matter can, at least on one occasion, be alfresco and in a less formal atmosphere, so that more persons may have a say and hearing may even be in the presence of the animals, whether at a temple or elsewhere.”
“The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests should, in particular, take the initiative of ensuring the welfare of all captive elephants in the State, whether by conducting awareness programmes or reviving the regular functioning of the District Level Committees and for such purpose, if necessary, the doors of the Judicial Academies in Chennai, Coimbatore and Madurai may be opened.
The Principal Chief Conservator should file a further report when the matter appears next. The report should also indicate the availability of mahouts, particularly in respect of the two elephants in Srirangam; one elephant in Srivilliputtur; and, two elephants in Thirukkurungudi,” the order said.

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