Row over norms mooted for captive elephants' protection

Row over norms mooted for captive elephants' protection

Kerala is witnessing a fresh row over the stringent norms being mooted by the government to curb exploitation and cruelty towards captive elephants. (PTI Photo)

Kerala is witnessing a fresh row over the stringent norms being mooted by the government to curb exploitation and cruelty towards captive elephants.

The Kerala forests department has drafted the norms which prescribe jail term for those accused of cruelty towards elephants and imposes strict restrictions on continuous parading of elephants for more than six hours.

While elephant protection activists welcomed the government move, a large section of elephant owners said that the fresh norms were not practical.

The Kerala Elephants Owners Federation (KEOF) has demanded the government to have comprehensive discussions before finalising the fresh norms.

At present Kerala has around 500 captive elephants. During the temple festival season, there used to be a huge demand for elephants. Some elephants were even made to work continuously for days and travel 500 to 700 kilometre in a week.

It was in this backdrop, the Kerala forest department mooted amendments to the existing Kerala captive elephants rules.

According to the draft amendment published recently, elephants should be allowed to rest for six hours after every six hours of work and even travel time need to be considered as working hours.

Cruelty towards elephants would attract fine of Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 for the first two instances and in case of cruelty by a person towards elephants for more that twice, the person could attract a six-month jail term.

Another norm that had not gone well with the elephant owners is that in case of change in mahout of an elephant, the new mahout could take the elephant for any work only after six months of familiarisation with the elephant.

Mahouts will not be allowed to use elephant goads with sharp metal ends as there used to be widespread instances of mahouts using sharp edged elephant goads to control elephants by inflicting injury. In case an elephant turns violent and claims any life or causes damage, it will be banned from parading for three months.

The draft rules also mooted that each elephant should be provided 1.2 acre of land for resting and an elephant should not be kept away from its owner's place continuously for more that three months.

Elephant protection activist V K Venkitachalam told DH that the draft norms were quite pro-elephants and hence the government should take it forward.

However, KEOF general secretary P Sasikumar alleged that the fresh norms were framed by a section of officials with the motive to sabotage the temple festivals and rituals of Kerala.

Incidentally, KEOF is headed by former Kerala minister and a ruling front MLA KB Ganesh Kumar. Hence the elephant lovers have apprehensions that there would be pressure on the government in taking forward the draft norms.