The Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) has emphatically said that it will not dispatch the four elephants to Ahmedabad from Assam’s Tinsukia for the Jagannath Rath Yatra on July 4 till it receives a “clarification” on an order of the Supreme Court from the forest department of Assam and the matter is resolved by the Gauhati High Court.
“We have sought a clarification from the forest department of Assam on an order of the Supreme Court. Till that clarification is received, we will not dispatch the elephants by the railway,” Masood Alom, who is the Additional Divisional Railway Manager of Tinsukia Division, told The New Indian Express on Saturday.
“Our zonal headquarters (Maligaon) has written the letter to the forest department seeking the clarification. Also, there is a Public Interest Litigation filed in the Gauhati High Court. Till the case is resolved, we will not dispatch the elephants,” he further said.
NFR Chief Public Relations Officer, Pranav Jyoti Sarma, also said that there was no question of transporting the elephants by a train now as the matter had reached the court.
The statements by the two senior NFR officials come amidst rumours that the elephants will be dispatched in a wagon, which will be attached to the Brahmaputra Mail, on Saturday.
The animals’ transportation will be in violation of a Supreme Court order. In a 2016 case between Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre and organisations versus Central government and others, the Supreme Court had ordered: “…The state government (Government of Kerala) shall not issue any ownership certificate to any of the persons in possession of elephants. That apart, the persons who are in possession of elephants shall not transfer the elephants outside the state nor shall they part with the elephants by way of transfer in any manner…”
The Gauhati High Court has already admitted two petitions which were filed by Sangita Iyer, who is a Kerala-born wildlife journalist from Canada, and Avinava Prayash, a Guwahati-based NGO. The petitioners urged the court to prevent the elephants’ transportation citing various reasons including the prevailing scorching heat in the country. The petitions will be heard by the court on Monday.