5 – Temples, Elephants and Traditions – B. R. Haran

Neil Nitin Mukesh

B. R. HaranIt is an ugly fact that most of the … rules and regulations [to protect elephants] are violated with impunity and the various government departments are aware of it. It is unfortunate that the authorities are hand in glove with the violators in many places. … [and it] is causing immense damage to the welfare of elephants. – B. R. Haran

We have seen the unmitigated pain of captive elephants in temples and private places and the reasons behind it. It would be pertinent to know the details of illegalities and legal violations by the mahouts and the owners of captive elephants. The owners and mahouts of captive elephants violate several Acts, Laws, Notifications, Orders and Guidelines.

Illegal Possession of Elephants: As per Section 43 of Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972, No person having in his possession captive animal, animal article, trophy or uncured trophy in respect of which he has a certificate of ownership shall transfer by way of sale or offer for sale or by any other mode of consideration of commercial nature, such animal or article or trophy or uncured trophy”.

Elephant RajuHowever, most of the captive elephants have been sold and bought (including elephants bought by temples and mathams) violating Section 43. 

Outdated and Invalid Ownership Certificates: As per Point 1 of the Guidelines for Care and Management of Captive Elephants, issued by Project Elephant Division of Ministry of Environment and Forests and Climate Change,

All States/UTs would carry out a fresh survey of the captive elephants in their territory within a period of six months and report the number to the Ministry. All the captive elephants shall be micro chipped for which chips have been provided in adequate numbers to the States/UTs. Fresh ownership certificate should be issued in the form annexed for a period of five years and should be renewed every five years in case there is no violation of the norms to be followed”.

However, this law is observed more in the breach and several owners of captive elephants keep either an outdated or an invalid ownership certificate. 

Forcing Injured or Unfit Elephants to Work: Section 11-1-b of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 says, “If any person employs in any work or labour or for any purpose any animal which, by reason of its age or any disease, infirmity, wound, sore or other cause, is unfit to be so employed or, being the owner, permits any such unfit animal to be employed; he shall be punishable”.

Most of the captive elephants are either injured or wounded or diseased or terribly weak. But the owners and mahouts have been known to not only exhibit them in public places and functions, they have also been put to work.

Continuous Tethering and Chaining by more than One Foot:  Section 11-1-f of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 says, “If any person keeps for an unreasonable time any animal chained or tethered upon an unreasonably short or unreasonably heavy chain or cord; he shall be punished”.

Captive elephants are chained or tethered for more than 20 hours a day and many of them are chained by more than one foot with short and heavy oxidized chains. This violation happens in all places, with no exceptions.

Using Iron Ankush: The Rajasthan High Court has banned the use of iron ankush (goad). The order permits its usage only in extreme or dangerous situations that might result in danger to the public. The order explicitly says, “Only ankushes made from wood or bamboo or cane must be used to control the elephants. The metal ankushes carried by mahouts must not be visible to the elephants. They can be used only during extreme situations which could result in danger to the public”.

However, this order is being violated at will in many places and the mahouts do not hesitate to use iron ankushes which also have sharp bull-hooks at one end!

Mutilation: Section 11-1-a of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 says, “If any person beats, kicks, over-rides, over-drives, over-loads, tortures or otherwise treats any animal so as to subject it to unnecessary pain or suffering or causes, or being the owner permits, any animal to be so treated; he shall be punished”.

The hairs (from tail and other parts of the body) of captive elephants are removed by using blades and razors and then sold in black markets where there is a huge demand for them. While removing the hairs, the mahouts and owners subject the elephants to utmost cruelty which ultimately results in injuries and sometimes even fracture and dislocation of tail bones, which are an extension of the elephant’s vertebra. These are gross but routine and pervasive violations of the above said section of PCA Act.

Not Arranging Free Access to Water and Nutritious Food:  Section 11-1-h of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 says, “If any person being the owner of (any animal) fails to provide such animal with sufficient food, drink or shelter, he shall be punished”. Also the Rajasthan High Court’s Order says, “The owner of the elephant or its contractor or hirer must provide sufficient potable water to the elephant preferably from a source of running water”.

As we have seen in many cases, potable water and nutritious food are not provided to captive elephants both in temples and those that are privately owned, which too is a gross violation of both PCA Act and Rajasthan HC’s order.

Blind ElephantHousing Conditions and Facilities: Section 42 of Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972 says, “….. Provided that before issuing the certificate of ownership in respect of any captive animal, the Chief Wild Life Warden shall ensure that the applicant has adequate facilities for housing, maintenance and upkeep of the animal”. This is applicable to temples also. But in most places as we have seen in previous sections in this series, captive elephants are not provided with adequate facilities and conditions required for their proper housing, maintenance and upkeep.

Elephant chainedAlso, subsequent to the ban on elephants in zoos in 2009, the Stakeholders Consultative Meeting of Central Zoo Authority on “Elephant Upkeep in Zoos” held on 18 March 2013 gave permission to a few stakeholders (zoos) to keep elephants provided they adhere to the norms as specified by the Central Zoo Authority. The Authority specified a provision of not less than 1.2 acre of area for each elephant. This area is a minimum requirement for a Schedule 1 Wildlife animal like the elephant to behave naturally and lead a natural life.

But as far as captive elephants are concerned, they are provided with only cramped, ill-ventilated, dark and unhygienic, concrete shelters without proper drainage facilities. This again is a gross violation leading to enormous suffering of captive elephants.

Medical Care and Treatment: Section 3 of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1960 says, It shall be the duty of every person having the care or charge of any animal to take all reasonable measures to ensure the well-being of such animal and to prevent the infliction upon such animal of unnecessary pain or suffering”.

But in reality, as we have seen already, captive elephants suffer from cataract of the eyes (sometimes even blindness), wounds and abscesses (with blood and pus oozing out) on footpads, wounds on legs and body, weakness, obesity, diarrhea, arthritis, fractures and tuberculosis, etc. In some places such ailments result in the death of elephants. Captive elephants are not provided with the required medical care and treatment which again is a gross violation of law.

Records and Registers: As per the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants – Management and Maintenance – Rules 2011, every owner of the elephant shall maintain the following records and registers and such records and registers shall be produced before the officers authorized by Government in this behalf for inspection at such time as may be called for:

(a) Certificate of ownership Register.

(b) Health Register (1) Vaccination Record (2) Diseases and treatment Record 

(c) Movement Register

(d) Feeding Register

(e) Work Register

 (f) Health Registers of mahout and cavady (assistant mahout).

(g) Register of salary disbursement.

But, almost all owners of captive elephants are irresponsible in maintaining these records and registers. 

Violation of Rules at will: Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants – Management and Maintenance – Rules 2011 has prescribed various rules and guidelines for Possession of Elephants  (License or Ownership Certificate), Housing Conditions, Care of Elephants, Feeding of elephants, Workload for elephants, Mahouts and Cavadys, Norms and Standards for Transportation, Retirement of Elephants, Records and Registers, Cutting of Tusks, Acts which are tantamount to cruelty to elephants, Aged elephants, Welfare Committees and Dos and Don’ts for General Public.

However, it is an ugly fact that most of the above said rules and regulations are violated with impunity and the various government departments are aware of it. It is unfortunate that the authorities are hand in glove with the violators in many places. The corruption which has taken deep roots in Forest Department and other government bodies which own or are responsible for elephants, is causing immense damage to the welfare of elephants.

Cases in Courts

Chennai High Court extended the mandate of the Inspection Committee, constituted by it to inspect cows and goshalas in temples, to elephants also. Subsequently the inspection committee gave its reports to the High Court during subsequent court hearings in the case.

The issue of cruel treatment of captive elephants has been raised in public forums and cases have also been filed in various courts in states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra. A case has been filed in Supreme Court also. Let us see some of the significant cases and court orders

Vinay KoreMaharashtra

Male elephant Sundar has been serving in Jyothiba Temple, Kolhapur, Maharashtra since 2007 when he was 8 years old. Sundar was donated to the temple by Vinay Kore, MLA. Sundar was unfortunate to get an inexperienced mahout, Jameel, who treated him very cruelly. The international animal rights organization, PETA, lodged a complaint with the forest department of Maharashtra.

Meanwhile, as the temple authorities received many complaints about Jameel, they removed him and appointed another immature 18-year-old mahout, Hyder Abu Bakkar, and an assistant mahout, Ateef. They also treated Sundar cruelly. Without nutritious food and proper medical treatment, Sundar continued to suffer.

Subsequently, officials of the forest department along with veterinarians visited Kolhapur and inspected Sunder in August 2012. They found that Sundar was weak; lost weight; had wounds and scars all over his body; a festering abscess near his ear caused by frequent use of the banned bull-hooked ankush; legs had wounds because of chains. They confirmed that Sundar was physically and psychologically abused and tortured by the mahout and his assistant. Thereafter, the Chief Conservator of Forests, Nagpur Division, was ordered to shift Sundar to the rehabilitation center in Karnataka. PETA offered to bear the transportation expenses. However, due to political pressure, the order was not implemented.

Officials from the Central Zoo Authority visited Kolhapur and inspected Sundar in October 2012. Their report was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which issued an interim order to shift Sundar to a rehabilitation center in Karnataka until final order was issued. Even after that, Sundar was not shifted.

Misusing his political clout, Vinay Kore took Sundar from Kolhapur to his private place in Varananagar. Sundar’s misery continued unabated.

As the two orders to shift Sundar were not implemented, PETA filed a petition in Mumbai High Court praying for an order to shift Sundar to Karnataka. It also prayed for stringent punishment for those officials who had not carried out their government’s orders.

In the meantime, PETA began a public campaign with celebrities like Paul McCartney, Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, Pamela Anderson, Arjun Rampal, Madhavan and Gulshan Grover, to create awareness about Sundar’s plight and put pressure on the authorities to act immediately to free Sundar from captivity.

Vinay Kore petitioned the High Court praying for the cancellation of orders. After hearing the case on 6 April 2014, the Bombay High Court ordered shifting of Sundar to the rehabilitation center in Karnataka and specified that the shifting must be done before the onset of monsoon.

Vinay Kore appealed against the order in the Supreme Court, but the apex Court upheld the High Court’s order on 21 May 2014.

Finally, Sundar was shifted to Bannarghatta National Park in Bengaluru. When he arrived at the national park, he was welcomed by about 13 elephants and they accompanied him to Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. Now, Sundar’s injuries have begun to heal and his physical and emotional health shows improvement.


Bengaluru based CUPA (Compassion Unlimited Plus Action) petitioned the Karnataka High Court in February 2013, praying for prohibition of use of elephants in any form of begging, performance or procession; it also prayed to declare all NOCs and permissions given for transport of elephants to be used for such purposes as illegal and violation of Section 43 of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act 1972.

Admitting the petition, the Karnataka High Court directed the concerned authorities to formulate rules and guidelines for such prohibition in consultation with all concerned in the matter.

In another case, initiating a suo motu Public Interest Litigation of a news report by The Hindu in 2008 that 25 elephants had died in six months around Bandhipur-Nagarhole National Park, the Karnataka High Court directed the authorities to submit a comprehensive report. Subsequently the government submitted a report and action plan titled “Elephant Landscape” on 11 March 2009. Then again it filed a comprehensive action plan for conservation and protection of elephants on 17 April 2009.

During subsequent hearings, the High Court constituted the Karnataka Elephant Task Force on 24 January 2012 with specific Terms of Reference. The task force submitted its report and recommendations in September 2012. Then on 8 October 2013, the High Court directed the government to take into consideration the recommendations given by the task force and act accordingly. It also ordered the government to implement the recommendations given by the task force for the welfare of captive elephants.

Madras High CourtTamil Nadu 

The Chennai High Court had a sitting on 22 July 2016, to hear the status reports of its committee constituted for the inspection of cows and elephants in temples. The committee was constituted after hearing the PIL filed by animal activist Radha Rajan.

Appearing for the petitioner Senior Advocate Sathish Parasaran argued, “The forest department must handover wildlife to temples only after ensuring that the temple authorities would be able to take care and manage them as per the Wildlife Protection Act. If micro chips are inserted in the body of elephants, their movements can be monitored. But the forest department does not have scanners. So, honourable High Court should direct the government to equip forest department with scanners and other needed equipments. The High Court should also order the government to constitute welfare committees to supervise the care and management of cows, elephants and calves in temples”.

Additional Advocate General P.H. Arvind Pandian, who appeared for the government, submitted that a state level committee had been formed as per the GO issued on 20 July, and that, it would take at least two months to form district-wise committees.

The plight of elephant Gomathi which is housed in Thiruvidaimaruthur Mahalingaswami Temple also came up for hearing. The HC bench heard the advocate who appeared for the temple management. After hearing arguments, the HC Bench gave the following directions:

Forest Department officials must ensure strict implementation of Indian Wildlife Protection Act. They should also check in person the care given to the temple elephants and how they are managed by the temple authorities. The micro chip aspect must also be looked into by the authorities.

Animal Welfare Board of India must inspect the present health condition of Thiruvidaimaruthur temple elephant Gomathi, and file a report.

The HC posted the case for further hearing to 7 October.

The direction given to the forest department with regards to the insertion of micro chips on elephants is very significant. The government can no more abdicate its responsibilities and should ensure that the forest department is equipped with scanners and other equipments.

Readers may recall the case of 58 years old captive elephant Lakshmi in Pazhani discussed previously. When Lakshmi was freed from captivity and shifted to a treatment center, the details found in the microchip were different from the details found in the ownership certificate produced by Lakshmi’s owner. While the ownership certificate bore one number of the microchip, the microchip in elephant Lakshmi when scanned, showed another number. This could mean only one thing. Elephant Lakshmi was not ‘Lakshmi’ because her owner had violated the Wildlife Act which bans trading in Wildlife and wildlife parts. Having bought the elephant illegally, this man also bought the ownership certificate issued by the Forest Department to another owner for another elephant. The original elephant had probably died but instead of informing the Forest Department of the death and surrendering the ownership certificate, this man sold it to Lakshmi’s owner, probably for a hefty amount.

Had the concerned licensing authority (Forest Department official) monitored all captive elephants in his district at least once in six months, this fraud of selling ownership certificates would be impossible.

One thing is clear—who is responsible for captive elephants—the central government, state government, forest department, HR&CE? No one seems willing to accept responsibility for captive elephants but all wish to use them abusively in human interest.

(To be continued)     

» B. R. Haran is a senior journalist in Chennai

One Response

  1. Elephant

    Elephant Graphic

    Shameless poachers continue elephant slaughter as raids point to a booming ‘domestic market’ for ivory products – By Baishali Adak – Mail Online – 19:06 GMT, 12 August 2016

    Authorities may have put a ban on ivory trade in India, but recent raids suggest there’s resurgence in the practice that has put elephants on the path of extinction.

    What has shocked wildlife crime control agencies, and NGOs involved, the most is the resurgence of the ‘domestic ivory market’ in India.

    As opposed to the centuries-old practice, whereby all ‘raw and finished’ tusk products were routed to China, Japan and Thailand — the global destinations for these illegal items — a reliable clientele base seems to have developed within the country.

    A senior MoEF official told Mail Today on the condition of anonymity, “At least four major raids had been conducted in the past 6-8 months in several states, including Maharashtra and Kerala, which yielded about 13 kg of the contraband. These were based on the information provided by Umesh Aggarwal.”

    Umesh, a businessman based in Laxmi Nagar, east Delhi, was arrested by the Kerala Forest Department in October 2015.

    The biggest ivory consignment of India — 487 kg worth Rs 12 crore in the black market — was seized from him.

    On his tips, more than 90 poachers have been arrested so far.

    According to Jose Louies, senior programme manager, Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), these raids point towards booming domestic market in elephant-tusk products.

    “Crucially, none of the items resemble those traditionally smuggled to Southeast Asia. These are, in fact, statues of Indian gods and goddesses like Tirupati Balaji, Radha-Krishna and Swami Satyanarayan, Quran stands, Christian crosses, tusks depicting the Ramayana, Rajasthani chooda (bangles), etc. The best-selling item is Ganesha idols,” informed Louies.

    He reminded how the Chinese and the Japanese prefer their own ‘school of ivory art’.

    “The Chinese, for instance, prefer uncarved tusks and tusk flakes to turn into statues of Buddha, monks, their royal figures, various animals, etc. We are sure that all these ivory products are now being manufactured for Indians only.”

    Experts point fingers at high-profile individuals — politicians, ministers, bureaucrats, celebrities, film stars and royal families — who can afford these ivory products.

    “They serve as a symbol of their ‘status’ and ‘power’ in society,” said a WTO official, emphasising how a kilogramme of uncarved ivory can cost anything between Rs 15,000 and Rs 50,000 in the Indian black market, while ‘intricately carved and modelled items’ fetch several hundred crores.

    Dr Shekhar Kumar Niraj, head of NGO, TRAFFIC, concurred.

    “It is true to a large extent. The purchasing power of individuals in India has gone up. So has the demand for contraband items, including ivory products,” he said.

    Tito Joseph of the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI) too pointed at the trend when he said that there has not been “a single incident of Indian ivory being smuggled to Japan in the past few years.”

    Recently, Minister for Environment and Forests Anil Madhav Dave informed Parliament that 85 elephants across the country have fallen prey to poachers in the last three years.

    The maximum number of cases has arisen from Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.

    The elephants – currently only 30,000 odd pachyderms are left in the wild in India – are generally shot to death and their tusks, up to 10 feet long, wrenched out.

    The elephant is protected under Schedule 1 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. It lists it as a ‘most endangered animal.’

    Killing an elephant or possessing any ivory item is punishable by three years in prison. Sadly, this hasn’t been able to deter the criminals and a Rs 50,000 fine.

    Sadly, this hasn’t been able to deter the criminals.


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