Arikomban seen here taking a nap I File Photo

Kerala HC warns of action if Arikomban case resettlement area is elephant habitat

On Wednesday, the Kerala High Court cautioned the state that if it is discovered that the region in Idukki district where a wild elephant named Arikomban was roaming had previously been an elephant habitat, and tribal individuals were relocated there, stringent action would be taken.

A bench of Justices A K Jayasankaran Nambiar and Gopinath P called for records and reports on the resettlement of tribal people in the area back in 2000 and said, “If it was an elephant habitat, you had no business resettling people there and putting them in danger.”

The court said that resettling people in an elephant habitat was the “root of the entire problem”.

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“We will examine it. If it was an elephant habitat, then your policy makers went way off board. If people were resettled there despite being aware of this fact, we will come down heavily on those responsible.

“Errors in history can be corrected later in time. We need to find whether the mistake happened and if yes, correct it,” the bench added.

The court, however, declined to issue any direction in the interim for capture and captivity of the elephant, Arikomban, so named as it raids ration shops and houses for rice.

Instead, the bench said it would constitute a five-member committee which would decide whether to capture the wild bull elephant and turn it into a captive tusker or relocate it to interior areas of the forest.

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The court said that till the panel came to a decision by next week, the tusker was not to be captured and put in captivity.

It, however, allowed tranquilising of the elephant for the limited purpose of radio-collaring it to track its movements.

The detailed order containing the courts directions is yet to be made available.

The court’s decision, meanwhile, was not welcomed by the residents of Chinnakanal and nearby places in Idukki district.

Visibly agitated and angry over the court’s decision not to allow the capture of the tusker, people of the area told TV channels they would hold a mass public movement against the government.

They also told TV channels that they would not allow the forest and wildlife officials as well as the Kumki elephants, used for trapping wild pachyderms, to leave the area till Arikomban is removed from there.

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The people asked those advocating for the elephants interests to come there and stay in the area for a night with their families to understand the plight of the local residents.

During the hours-long court hearing in the afternoon, the bench said it was not in favour of capture and captivity of the tusker, as various factors “point to the inability of the state to look after elephants in captivity”.

The bench referred to some of the places where elephants were kept in captivity, as “Auschwitz” — a Nazi concentration camp for Jews in Poland during the Second World War.

“We know the status of elephants kept in captivity in the state,” it said.

The court also said that the issue being faced by the people of Chinnakanal and nearby places in Idukki district of Kerala, where Arikomban has been roaming around, would not be resolved by its capture.

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“If not Arikomban, it will be another komban (tusker). As we have more and more settlements coming up near forest areas, you will keep having these problems,” it said.

“We need to look for a long-term solution to the problem,” the bench added.

The state, during the hearing, pressed for capture of the elephant in the interim to assuage the fears of the local populace of further attacks by the tusker.

“Children have stopped going to schools,” the state claimed.

The court was hearing a PIL moved by two animal rights groups — People for Animals (PFA), Trivandum Chapter and the Walking Eye Foundation for Animal Advocacy.

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The court had last week stayed the state government’s order to tranquilise and capture Arikomban till March 29.

Advocates Bhanu Thilak and Prasanth S R, representing the petitioners, argued during the hearing that the state had not followed the guidelines in place for dealing with such situations of human-animal conflict.

“The first step was to be radio-collaring and monitoring of the tusker. They have not yet done that,” Thilak told the bench.

The petitioner organisations have claimed in their plea that the order to tranquilise and capture the tusker was “illegal and unscientific”.

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The petitioners have urged the court to issue an order directing the state government and its forest department to translocate and rehabilitate Arikomban to an alternative deep forest using scientific methods causing minimum trauma to it in the event of tranquilising and capturing it.

They have also urged the court to direct the state not to keep the tusker in captivity in the elephant camp at Kodanad.

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