Supreme Court: In a Miscellaneous Application seeking clarification of Court’s order restricting transfer/sale/gift/entrustment of elephants being confined to Karnataka, the Division Bench of Krishna Murari and Ahsanuddin Amanullah, JJ. referred to other PILs filed before various High Courts and upheld the Tripura High Court’s decision of constituting a High-Powered Committee and extended its powers across the Country in public interest and for advancement of the cause of welfare, care and rehabilitation of wild animals.
The present application seeks clarification of order passed by Supreme Court in Muruly M.S. v. State of Karnataka, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 224 dismissing SLP filed against Karnataka High Court’s order dated 6-6-2022 dismissing PIL in Muruly M.S. v. State of Karnataka, 2022 SCC OnLine Kar 1481 wherein, the petitioner sought directions from State of Karnataka restricting transfer/sale/gift/entrustment of wild and captive elephants within the State in favour of private individuals and Radha Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust in particular.
The petitioner seeks clarification in Supreme Court’s order dated 1-8-2022 regarding directions of both the Courts being confined only to population of elephants exclusively within the State of Karnataka and its inapplicable to any other State or Territory.
The main ground in similar PILs filed before various High Courts has been the State’s responsibility to take care of abandoned or rescued elephants and other animals, which have been dismissed by various High Courts. The Court acknowledged the Radha Krishna Temple Elephant Welfare Trust being a registered public charitable trust under the Gujarat Public Trust Act, 1950 with the object to promote welfare of animals and to establish paraphernalia for the welfare of animals in need. In addition, the Trust is engaged in rescue and rehabilitation of wild/captive elephants, who need long-term care due to injury/old age, abusive captivity, such as circus, street begging, etc., not being a breeding center and not making any commercial profits.
The Court noted the judgment dated 7-11-2022 wherein the Tripura High Court in Writ Petition (Civil – PIL) No. 17 of 2022 declined the relief sought for restraining transfer and transportation of captive bred Elephants and constituted a High-Powered Committee along with issuing well thought of directions for smooth functioning, powers, jurisdiction and assistance to be provided to the Committee.
The Court found nothing wrong in extending the jurisdiction of the Committee to transfer elephants from Northeast parts to elephant camp of the Trust to PAN India, since it would serve the public interest and curb filing of frivolous PILs before different High Courts.
Thus, the Court extended the jurisdiction of the High-Powered Committee as constituted by the High Court of Tripura modifying the same to co-opt the Chief Wildlife Wardens of the States throughout India allowing the Committee to conduct necessary checks and undertake fact finding exercise in any pending or future complaint. The Court also directed all the related complaints to be forwarded to the Committee for consideration and recommendation of appropriate action, and empowered the Committee to consider the requests of approval, dispute or grievance, concerning transfer or import into India or procurement or welfare of wild animals by any rescue or rehabilitation center or zoo, with the assistance and co-operation from all departments and authorities across India.
The Court also directed all State and Central Authorities to report seizure of wild animals or abandonment of captive wild animals to the Committee, who will be at liberty for recommending transfer of ownership of captive animals or of seized wild animals to any willing rescue centre or zoo for their immediate welfare, care and rehabilitation. The Court left it open to the Committee Chairman to determine the honorarium and the expenses required to carry out functions, to be borne by the concerned State or Union of India.
The Court disposed of the present application opining that the directions issued in this matter shall serve real public interest and would advance the cause of welfare, care and rehabilitation of wild animals.
[Muruly M.S. v. State of Karnataka, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 224, judgment dated 3-03-2023]
Judgment authored by: Justice Krishna Murari.