Sunday, September 24, 2006

Haathi mere Saathi?

Laxmi, a 25 year old elephant died an unfortunate death on 22nd September, a Friday after a water tanker hit her on Wednesday. Although her death was due to the carelessness of the drunk driver, her death has brought into the forefront the pathetic conditions under which the elephants live in Mumbai.

This is Laxmi’s second accident that unfortunately proved to be the fatal one. However, Laxmi is not the only one going through the ordeal. There are more than ten elephants that live in miserable conditions in Mumbai. Away from their natural habitat, they survive in the city and earn their daily food by modelling in films, advertisements and by begging. They also play a very important role in various Hindu rituals all over the city.

Most animal activists are at loggerheads with all the elephant-owners in the city. There are about 7-8 elephants in the entire city of Mumbai which are owned by three people between them. Saba Shankar Pandey, one prominent elephant owner in the city believes that he is fulfilling a genuine need of the people by supplying elephants to them for various purposes. “They think we are inflicting cruelty on them. It would be cruel to restrict their movement. They don’t understand our rich sanskriti. Everyone is out to destroy our ancient culture” he said.

Amisha Shah of People for animals said, “The elephants love to walk but not on tar roads. Making them walk on tar roads in the hot afternoons is extremely tough for the elephants. This is not their natural habitat.” The elephants do not have single place for themselves in the city. The elephants sleep at any place in the night after begging all over the city.

Debashish Majumdar, Executive Secretary Thane SPCA said “Elephants live in captivity with insufficient space. Elephants are extremely intelligent animals with a strong sense of social order. Captive conditions fail to provide an interesting, stimulating and rewarding environment. They develop foot problems which are very rarely treated properly in captivity.”

Pandey claims that they spend a minimum of Rs 500 on each of the elephants they own. Imran (name changed to protect identity); a close associate of Pandey alleges that the elephants have to earn for their food everyday. He added, “The owners do not invest anything on the elephant’s well-being. The onus of the elephant’s well being is on the mahout. The elephants are given away to the mahout wherein the latter has to pay Rs 500 everyday to the owner. The rest of the money which is earned by begging is pocketed by the Mahout to take care of his and the elephant’s expenses.” The activists claim that one needs to spend almost Rs 1000 everyday on their food. The elephants need more than 150 kgs of food everyday and 40 gallons of water.

Most of the elephant-owners have procured their elephants from an annual elephant mela that is held in Sonpur in Bihar every year. They are also procured from a place near Nepal. The younger ones attract the maximum price. Currently, one elephant costs about 10-12 lakhs. Imran futher added, “Many villagers in Uttar Pradesh own elephants and keep them in their houses. Many owners purchase from them since it is a cheaper alternative.”

Dharmesh Solanki of People for Animals, Mumbai said “The licence for the ownership of wild animals is given by the respective state forest department. The owner of the elephant has to mention the state or region in which he wants to keep the animal while obtaining the licence. Each time he decides to take the animal to another state, the forest department has to be informed and requisite transit permission should be obtained. He has to give information about the place he is going, the route he will be taking the animal through, the number of days he will be stayingat a particular place etc. It is the duty of the wildlife officer of the state to enquire about the animal and also the duty of the owner to seek them and declare his animal.”

The laws including the Wildlife Protection Act-1972 prevent private ownership of all wild animals. An exception could be when permission is given by principal chief conservator of forests for a specific purpose for a limited amount of time subjected to the condition that the animals are kept as per the Central Zoo Authority guidelines. The other laws which ban the presence of a wild animal in the city are Bombay Police Act, Prevention of Cruelty towards Animals Act, Begging Prohibition Act.

N.G Jayasimha, Co-ordinator of Campaign and Legal Affairs, People for Ethical Treatment for Animals “It is generally noticed that most of the elephants in the city do not carry proper papers with them, and hence it is difficult to ascertain the ownership of the animal. According to the forest department (in their letter dated 23/08/2006) they have not issued any permission or granted any license to parade elephants in the city.”

The animal activists also used Right to Information to find out what the wild animals are doing in the city. Jaisimha said, “The forest department has admitted under RTI that they have not taken any action on the owners of elephants in Mumbai in an event of their accident or death. According to the Forest Department, there are only 4 elephants registered with them. But according to information available with PETA and other animal organizations, there are at least over 11 elephants in the city.”

{Imran who is a close associate of Pandey and quit working for him after he could not bear to see the elephants being tortured.}

It is extremely sad that in a city wherein the elephant headed god is revered and loved so much, there are elephants which live under such pathetic conditions in the city. The irony can be unnerving at times.


coolscorpio said...

hi shoba,

am raghuveer , i want to be your friend loved your blog....

my blog is

lets be cool buddies!

Atlas said...

One question..I see you have done lot of research for this scribes have free access to certain documents which the general public needs RTI to access?
I am doing some indpendent R n D on RTI...Haaalp!

Vidya said...

Hey Shobha,

The condition is apparently the same in other parts of Asia - in paticular Thailand. It is truly sad. When you think about the sort of damage we have done as a race I think we need to hang our heads in shame! I guess awareness is always the first step to finding a solution to any problem. So many people don't even think that elephants on roads is a serious issue! The only positive thing is that atleast some people care...

Girl said...

oh god it is so sad... dont they have any rules for animals... wot is d law doing.. :(

and nice research there lady!