The Gauhati High Court on Friday directed the Tamil Nadu government to allow a four-member team from Assam to examine Joymala, an allegedly abused temple elephant, within three days of receiving a copy of the order.
The Tamil Nadu government has also been asked to let the team inspect the condition of nine other elephants leased out by Assam for specific periods.
The team headed by Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Hirdesh Mishra, has been waiting since September 3 for permission from the Tamil Nadu government to inspect Joymala, a female captive elephant at the Krishnan Kovil temple at Srivilliputhur. The elephant, renamed Jeyamalyatha, was leased out by Assam in 2011 for six months.
“The High Court has issued a notice to the Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary and the Director General of Police to let the Assam team inspect the elephants within three days of receiving the order. The Tamil Nadu government has also been asked to reply on the matter within 15 days,” Assam’s advocate general Devojit Saikia said.
“Notices have also been issued to the Tamil Nadu Forest Department and the Union Environment Ministry,” he said, adding that the court has fixed September 28 as the next date of hearing.
The Assam government had approached the High Court on Wednesday after its Tamil Nadu counterpart declined to cooperate with the four-member team despite repeated requests.
Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma sent the team after videos purportedly showing Joymala being tortured by mahouts within the temple complex triggered outrage.
The video was shared by the People for the Ethical Treatment to Animals (PETA) India, which said temple elephants were being abused in temples of the southern State. The Tamil Nadu Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Department had countered the PETA video with one of its own apparently showing Joymala in fine fettle.
The department called the PETA video fake and misleading, while the animal rights group said the Tamil Nadu government’s video was a public relations stunt.
On September 15, the Tamil Nadu government told the Madras High Court that it would not be possible to return the leased elephants. The government had replied to a public interest litigation petition filed by N. Sivaganesan, a field scientist on wildlife conservation.
The representative of the Tamil Nadu government said Jeyamalyatha need not be returned because of a few incidents of mistreating of elephants. The court was told that the elephants become accustomed to the temple and taking them away would hurt the sentiments of the devotees.