Guwahati: At a time when the elephant population is dwindling in Assam, the state government is all set to jeopardise the fate of four captive elephants by deciding to transport them in a non-AC, closed wagon train for a religious ceremony in Gujarat.
The elephants, all belonging to upper Assam, will be transported to Ahmedabad for taking part in the inaugural ceremony of a newly-constructed Jagannath Temple. Union home minister Amit Shah is likely to grace the inaugural function scheduled on July 4.
Two of the four elephants are owned by Piyal Moran, a resident of Lakhipathar area under Digboi Forest division, and one each by Maheswari Moran of Raidang village under Doomdooma forest division and Joginath Pegu of Laika village under Dibrugarh forest division.
Turning a deaf ear to expert opinions and concerns raised by veterinarians, the government has decided to transport the pachyderms from Tinsukia railway station to the western Indian state in a closed non-AC wagon of train covering a distance of nearly 3,100 km in extreme weather conditions.
Challenging the state government’s decision to move the jumbos in a railway wagon, a petition was filed by a Guwahati-based NGO, ‘Avinava Prayash’ at the Gauhati High Court on Friday. The PIL, which is likely to be listed on Monday, is represented by secretary of ‘Avinava Prayash’, Urmi Mala Das, and Nandini Baruah, a fashion designer who runs the ‘Purr Paws Foundation’ for street animals in Guwahati.
As per reports, in an order signed by the chief conservator for forests (wildlife) Ranjana Gupta and conservator of forests (eastern Assam circle) Ranjan Kumar Das, a non-objection certificate was provided to the owners of all the four captive jumbos on a request by the latter in order to participate in the religious event. A transit pass with an advance payment of Rs 1,500 was also provided to the owners of all four elephants for the same by officials of Tinsukia railway station. However, the date of travel of the elephants remains unclear. The transit pass issued is valid till June 30, 2019.
Confirming the development, conservator of forests (wildlife) Dibya Dhar Gogoi, on behalf of the chief wildlife warden, said that on an official request put forwarded by the owners, the forest (wildlife) department of Assam has allowed transport of the elephants to Ahmedabad for religious purpose for a maximum period of six months. “Following all the procedures and keeping note of all guidelines, the chief warden of wildlife has approved the permission for transit of these elephants,” he added.
The senior forest official further informed that conservator of forests (EAC) will look after the future course of action until the transit of the captive jumbos.
“There are clear set of guidelines set by the government of India for transportation of elephants to a different state and all the aspects are taken into consideration by the local officers concerned,” he said.
The official also clarified that there is no provision under the law to make commercial profit by transit of jumbos to a different state for any purpose in India. “Violation of law in any manner is not tolerated at any level of the department,” he said.
Raising concerns over the bizarre move by the state government, Early Bird Foundation president Moloy Baruah said that it was a matter of risk to transport the elephants by train under such hot climate when temperatures are on the rise in the eastern and middle India states.
“Public are concerned about how these pachyderms are going to be transported under such hot climatic conditions, and whether it is suggested or desirable is only known to the authorities concerned,” he said.
Questioning the survival of the jumbos in a state like Gujarat, Baruah said that the animals are likely to be adversely affected as they will be exposed to maximum temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius which is not normal in Assam.
Taking about similar incidents, the eco-activist revealed that earlier on several occasions, elephants from Assam were transferred to other states like Kerala, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu for religious purposes and never came back.
“The elephants were made to join religious places for begging money from pilgrims,” he said.
Taking a dig at the government’s decision, Baruah said it is really sad that the state government has agreed to such a proposal despite repeated concerns raised from public at different times. “They should be strict enough to say, Assam elephants are not for public show or fun,” he added.
Suspecting a possible political nexus, the environmentalist alleged that the state government has always accepted to such proposals just for the sake of making profit out of it. “They are just putting up a condition that elephants can be transferred by public owners and doing a nexus staying within the legal norms provided,” he said.
Earlier, Kaliabor MP Gaurav Gogoi wrote to Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar seeking his intervention to stop transportation of these pachyderms. In a letter, Gogoi expressed concern that the elephants might develop skin infection and suffer from dehydration during the process.
Many questions still remain unanswered about the role decided for the elephants in the religious event at Ahmedabad, whether the custodians in the other state are capable enough in terms of the elephant’s housing and husbandry. The fate of all the four jumbos to be transited in a week’s time still remains unknown looking into the past incidents.
Assam’s jumbo population is falling at an alarming rate, as per reports. The state is currently left with only about 4,500 pachyderms.