The Tripura High Court has directed the Project Elephant Division of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to issue necessary directions for all Chief Wild Life Wardens on taking of necessary steps to end the capturing of wild Elephants in forests.
The Division Bench of Chief Justice Indrajit Mahanty and Justice S.G. Chattopadhyay disposed of a PIL filed by a practicing advocate, seeking direction to restrain transfer and transportation of captive bred Elephants from Northeast India and in particular from the States of Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh to an Elephant Camp of respondent No 3 (Shri Radhe Krishna Temple, Elephant Welfare Trust).
The petition further sought an order, directing an inquiry into past transfers and transport of Elephants from North Eastern States.
In support of the prayers sought, the petitioner has relied upon a news report to show that there were several elephants in captivity in North East States of India particularly in Tripura, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The petitioner also relied upon a news article, which referred to letters of wildlife organisations. The petitioner submitted that on the basis of these articles, many groups in these States were known to capture Elephants from the wild and force them into captivity for the purpose of selling them.
He submitted that the States of Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh proposed to transfer around 30 Elephants between them to an Elephant Camp established by the respondent No.3 in Jamnagar, Gujarat.
The Court was of the view that there should not be any exchange of consideration in the transfer. Besides, the purpose of eventual transfer should also not be of a commercial nature. It means the person or the body to which the Elephant is being transferred, should not put the Elephant to any commercial use, noted the High Court.
It has to be ensured that Elephants are not put to use or transferred out of the States for any commercial activity like doing labour, participating in parades, ceremonies, tourist safaris, rides, circus, begging etc. as these would be in the realm of commercial nature, added the Bench.
The High Court passed the following order :-
a. The Court directed the Project Elephant Division of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change to issue necessary directions to all Chief Wild Life Wardens to take all steps necessary to curb and put to an end, the capturing of wild Elephants, if any, from the wild including :-
i. Directing a census of all Elephants in captivity of private persons or Government departments and creation of an inventory of the same with their name, details of ownership certificate, microchip number and photograph.
ii. Directing inspection and verification of Certificate of Ownerships of all Elephants in captivity and in case there is no Certificate of Ownership, to either issue a provisional Certificate of Ownership or confiscate the Elephant after carrying out necessary inspection and verification of the history and source of the Elephant.
iii. Directing a proper DNA sequencing for new offspring to be conducted so as to identify and prevent capture of young Elephants from the wild.
b. The Court appointed a High-Powered Committee (HPC) under the Chairmanship of Justice Deepak Verma (Former Judge, Supreme Court of India). The High Court appointed the following persons (by designation) as members of the said HPC:
i. Director General of Forests (Union of India);
ii. Head of Project Elephant Division (MoEF);
iii. Member Secretary (Central Zoo Authority of India);
iv. Chief Wild Life Warden (State of Tripura) for Elephants from State of Tripura; and
v. Chief Wild Life Warden (State of Gujarat).
c. The Chairman of the HPC shall co-opt an expert having experience of Elephants as a member of such HPC. The Chairman may also consider taking assistance of the Chairman, Animal Welfare Board of India for the purposes of the HPC.
d. All other members of the HPC shall render all assistance and for that purpose shall use all powers vested in them, including taking assistance of other officers of their respective departments as directed by the Chairman and also to take assistance of the local police as and when necessary, to enable the HPC to carry out the functions requisitioned by this order.
e. The members of the HPC shall carry out a thorough and detailed physical inspection of the Trust. They shall be entitled to access and inspect all areas and facilities of the Trust. They shall be entitled to access and inspect all documents of the Trust. They shall also be entitled to interview and question the staff and officers of the Trust. The HPC is requested to carry out the inspection at the earliest and in any case within 10 days from the date of this order.
f. The respondent No.3 is directed not to interfere with or restrict the members of the HPC from carrying out their inspection in any manner that they deem fit. The Chairman shall be entitled to take assistance of as many professionals, including photographers, videographers, vets, architects as he deems fit, for the purpose of the inspection.
g. The respondent No.3 shall render all assistance and provide all necessary arrangements as requisitioned by the Chairman of the HPC for the purpose of the inspection.
h. The Chairman of the HPC may direct formation of one or more groups consisting of at least 3 members (of which at least one should be from the HPC and other experts) to carry out a physical inspection at the current location of the 23 Elephants and submit factual findings on such questions as the Chairman may deem fit and proper including on the allegation that they are purported to be captured from the wild. Due regard would be had to the said factual findings in the report.
i. The HPC shall in the first instance make a report on the questions in paragraph 27 of this order and it shall endeavour to do the same within a period of two weeks from the date of communication of this order.
j. The Chairman of the HPC shall make a report and provide a copy of the same to all concerned preferably within a period of two weeks from the date of communication of this order.
k. The Chairman of the HPC shall then forward his recommendation Elephant-wise to the concerned Chief Wild Life Warden either recommending or not recommending the completion of the transfers, as the case may be.
l. In case the Chairperson of the Committee recommends that an Elephant or Elephants should not be transferred, then the concerned Chief Wild Life Warden shall take steps to either confiscate the Elephant or take an undertaking from the concerned owner that the Elephant shall be taken care of without any cruelty. In case where such undertaking is taken, the concerned Chief Wild Life Warden shall be bound to monitor the Elephant concerned in regular intervals and take further steps if necessary accordingly.
m. In cases where the Chairperson of the Committee recommends that an Elephant or Elephants be transferred to the camp of the respondent No.3, the concerned Chief Wild Life Warden shall ensure that the transfer of the Elephant is undertaken in the most appropriate manner conducive to the Elephants and further the concerned Chief Wild Life Warden shall request the jurisdictional police to ensure smooth passage of the Elephant concerned. Such jurisdictional police shall be bound to render all assistance to ensure smooth passage of the Elephant concerned.
n. In case the Chairman of the HPC finds any other fault or discrepancy, he shall forward its report with necessary recommendation for taking necessary corrective steps or action to the Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, Secretary, Forest Department of States of Gujarat, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh as necessary or deemed fit by the Chairman of the HPC.
o. The Court directed that all police authorities, officers of forest and wild life departments, officers of the Central Zoo Authority, Project Elephant and officers of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, to whom a request for assistance is made by the Chairman of the HPC, shall be bound and liable to render all necessary assistance to the HPC and its members to carry out the functions of the HPC.
p. The High Court directed that in order to bring about checks and balances in transfer of Elephants, the HPC shall continue to exist beyond these 23 Elephants and shall be consulted by the concerned Chief Wild Life Warden as the case may be before granting any travel permit. No travel permit shall be granted without the recommendation of the HPC. For such purpose, the HPC shall carry out the exercise it deems fit bearing in mind the observations made and the purport of the present order.
q. The costs of the HPC shall, insofar as the costs of the members are concerned, since their appointment is by designation, the costs shall be borne by their respective departments or employing authority.
r. The Chairman shall be entitled an honorarium of Rs.5,00,000/- (Rupees Five Lakh Only) and costs of the Chairman shall be reimbursed to him by the respondent No.3 without demur against a Bill of Costs. Such honorarium and costs shall be paid in advance and in any case before the Chairman sends his recommendations to the concerned Chief Wild Life Warden.
s. In case the Chairman of the HPC is required to carry out functions under this order beyond the afore-referred 23 Elephants, the Chairman shall convene the HPC with the same composition of respective designations and the HPC shall have the same functions as above and the HPC shall be provided with the same assistance as above.
t. In case the Chairman of the HPC is required to carry out functions under this order beyond the afore-referred 23 Elephants, entitled to an honorarium of Rs.100,000/- (Rupees One Hundred Thousand Only) and reimbursement of costs in the same manner as above.