By Samrat Phadnis
KOLHAPUR: The forest department has banned movement of captive elephants within any municipal corporation in the state. In October 2013, the department had banned movement of captive elephants within the limits of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Thane.
At many places in the state, captive elephants are widely used for religious programmes and celebrations. Mahout often takes elephants for a ride within the city areas leading to traffic congestion.
Sarjan Bhagat, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), who issued the order, has also asked local officials to regularly monitor housing and maintenance of captive elephants in their respective jurisdiction.
"Although the forest officers are not empowered to take action under the animal welfare regulations, any case of cruelty to elephants should be immediately brought to the notice of the police station concerned and statutory bodies of government of India such as animal welfare board. Legal action under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, by the competent authorities should be initiated if the police station concerned reports a prima facie case of cruelty to captive elephant," Bhagat said in his order.
The wildlife department has asked local officers to take necessary action and provide appropriate advice or guidance to the people who are reporting mistreatment of captive elephants.
Bhagat has also asked the chief conservator of forests (territory) to review the condition of elephant movement in the urban areas, other than the municipal corporations, under their jurisdiction. "The chief conservator and other officers are advised to discourage movement of captive animals on foot in crowded places of urban areas unless there is a compelling reason to do so," Bhagat said.
To ensure that the new instructions are followed, the department is arranging awareness programmes for assistant conservators of forests, range forest officers and other field officers. The department has also asked local officers to arrange such training programmes wherever necessary.
There are two religious institutions in Kolhapur which own captive elephants. These elephants are hired by individuals and organizations for their processions or celebrations.
Meanwhile, wildlife lovers expect the department to implement the ban to its fullest and draw attention to the earlier orders, especially ban on capturing and displaying cobras during annual festival at Battis Shirala in Sangli district.
"The order on Battis Shirala largely remained on paper. The forest department made very little efforts to implement it. Now, we are curious to see how the department implements banning movement of captive elephants in the urban areas," said Rohan Bhate, wildlife lover and honorary wildlife warden.
"Tar roads often end up wounding elephants' legs. The mahout collects donations in terms of money and food when he takes the animal for a ride on city roads. However, citizens hardly notice the wounds due to chaining and walking on tar roads," he added.
Elephant is a wild animal and has been included in the list of endangered mammals. According to section 42 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, it requires certificate from chief wildlife warden to house an elephant. The certificate gets issued only after scrutiny of facilities for housing, maintenance and upkeep of the the animal at the owner's locality. The chief wildlife warden can issue a certificate of ownership to a person who is in lawful possession of any wild animal or any animal article, trophy and uncured trophy and for purposes of identification.