"Elephant use in temple rituals any different from their use for begging on streets? Religious sentiments must give way sometimes", Madras High Court Observes in Plea against Elephants captivity in temples

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In a batch of pleas along with one filed by activist Rangarajan Narasimhan over the alleged inhumane treatment of elephants kept in temples across the state of Tamil Nadu, Madras High Court on Friday ordered the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests to prepare a catalogue of all captive elephants in the state along with their video recordings.

On Friday, Sri Rangam Temple proposed a concrete suggestion before the court that the temple has excess land close to the Cauvery river where the elephants can be housed in a forest like habitat and taken to temples only for ceremonial purposes.

However, addressing this suggestion as a welcome departure, the court noted,

“It is also time to re-think whether, in the light of the law in the country, elephants can be subjected to the ignominy of participating in temple celebrations or temple rituals and whether such activities are any better than elephants being used for begging on streets.”

Court said that at times religious sentiments must yield to reason and if at all the animal's point of view can be perceived, it may also be taken into consideration upon obtaining scientific and expert advice in such regard.

The Bench comprising Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice PD Audikesavalu directed that in the catalogue, a complete profile of each elephant including age, sex, and if possible, lineage should be indicated.

The court said that every endeavour should be made to indicate how the elephant came to be captured or domesticated. Court added that appropriate departments of the State Government be it the Animal Welfare or Animal Husbandry or the like departments should extend all cooperation in this regard.

Court further said that the Animal Welfare Board of India and state level corresponding body, if there is any, should be kept informed of the matters for rendering science-based assistance in the conduct of this particular matter and the treatment of elephants in general.

In the hearing, as earlier directed by the court, one Mr.Prakash of Elsa Foundation, an expert in the matter,  made a power point presentation before the court.

Court noted that the presentation had two segments, the first part had some scientific data whereas second part pointed out violations of the laws of the country while capturing or keeping elephants in captivity or trying to domesticate them.

Court highlighted that the Elsa Foundation's presentation claimed that there is widespread abuse of authority by forest officials across the country and the virtual trading in elephants.

Mr. Rangarajan Narasimhan, a regular petitioner in PIL matters pertaining to temples and Hindu religious practices, including temple elephants has earlier claimed before the court that two elephants at the Sri Rangam temple are without their regular mahouts and are in grave distress.

On earlier hearings Mr.  Narasimhan has also brought to the attention of the court that the elephants kept in captivity by the forest officials are being ill-treated at forest camps, away from public-view.

The matter has been listed to be next heard on Sep 24, 2021.

(Case Title: A batch of petitions including Rangarajan Narasimhan v. Chief Secretary and 15 Ors.)