The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed registration of all the temples possessing elephants and using them during religious functions in Kerala. The registration must be done within six weeks with the district committees set up under relevant rules for proper and effective control over them with respect to the pachyderms.
"It will be the obligation of the state to see that the registration (of temples) is carried out," an apex court bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice R. Banumathi said.
Kerala strongly resisted the plea for the registration of elephants contending that there was a provision for a declaration by the owners of elephants and insistence on registration was "unnecessary".
Kerala's stand was supported by the Centre, which said it was only the performing animals that needed to be registered and elephants participating in religious functions did not come under that category.
The court, however, said: "It shall be the duty of the state, the district committee, the temple management and the owners of the elephants to see that no elephant is meted with any kind of cruelty."
To ensure that those committing cruelty on elephants do not go unpunished, the court further said, "If it is found (that elephants were being treated with cruelty), apart from lodging of criminal prosecution, they shall face severe consequences which may include confiscation of the elephants to the state."
Referring to the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1974, the court directed the chief wildlife warden to see that all captive elephants in Kerala were counted and take action against owners not possessing requisite certification.
The district committees, which are crucial for keeping a watch on the well-being of the elephants, are constituted under the Kerala Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules, 2012, and have representatives from the Wildlife Welfare Board and people engaged in prevention of cruelty against animals and others.
The court's order came on an application seeking court's intervention to curb cruelties on elephants owned by the temples in Kerala and used for religious ceremonies and functions.