By Sajimon P.S.
The Heritage Animal Task Force (HATF), a forum of animal lovers, has demanded the state government to ensure elephants are not harassed during the temple festival season.
The forum raised the demand after it was found that the district committee to ensure the protection of pachyderms has been defunct.
The high court of Kerala, on March 16, 2008, had ordered the setting up of district committees to ensure the safety of elephants. The court's order was based on a HATF petition.
"It (the committee) is a statutory body with district collector and divisional forest officer as chairman and the convenor, respectively. As per the court order, the state government also issued guidelines regarding the parading of elephants during temple festivals," said V K Venkitachalam, general secretary of HATF.
The government has mandated that festival committees, wishing to parade elephants, should get permission from authorities concerned at least 72 hours before the event. Also, there should a space of four meters between two elephants.
The government has also restricted the number of elephants that could be paraded at a time.
Additionally, it has also been mandated that each elephant should be provided 250kg of food and 500 litres of water a day, besides adequately resting the animals.
The district committees were to ensure that the guidelines were met.
According to district assistant forest conservator S Sreekumar, his department had convened a meeting of elephant owners, temple authorities and mahouts before the commencement of the temple festival season.
"We have issued guidelines to all those who attended the meeting. However, we are unable to conduct inspections properly owing to the shortage of staff and vehicles. There are only eight employees and one out-dated jeep. There are hundreds of temples in Alappuzha,'' he said.
Additional district magistrate K P Thampi said permission to parade elephants was given only after ensuring the safety of elephants. "However, we are now not conducting any checking as no violations have been found till date in the temples," he said.