SC stays release of seized tuskers to resort owners

The Supreme Court. DH file photo

The Supreme Court has stayed an order for release of elephants, seized earlier for having been used by resort owners for joy ride of tourists in Uttarakhand. The top court acted on a plea by an environment activist, who contended that the order for release was passed in violation of the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

A bench of Justices S A Bobde and S Abdul Nazeer suspended the operations of the Uttarakhand High Court's order of March 6, on a petition filed by Gauri Maulekhi.

"Until further orders, there shall be stay of operation of the impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court," the top court said, issuing a notice to the state government and others for filing their response within four weeks.

The top court's order was passed after hearing senior advocate V Giri on behalf of Maulekhi. The counsel contended the high court had disregarded the statutory provisions which barred commercial use of elephants.

Before the high court, the activist had challenged the validity of the order of the Chief Wildlife Warden issued on February 28, ordering for release of eight elephants to their owners.

She contended that since elephants were to be treated as case property after having been seized and the criminal cases registered, the tuskers should have been housed at their natural habitat in the custody of the Forest Department.

The petitioner had then relied upon the division bench order of August 3, 2018, which banned commercial use of elephants in the entire state of Uttarakhand. The Chief Wildlife Warden was directed to take possession of the elephants from their owners by issuing them proper receipt for their treatment, medical examination and proper upkeep within 24 hours. The court also directed that the elephants should temporarily be kept at the Rajaji National Park, Chilla.

On March 6, the High Court, however, declined to act on the activist's plea and to interfere with the order for release of elephants, after noting that the division bench's order of August 3, 2018 had been stayed by the top court on January 29, 2019.

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