The “Arikomban” saga in Kerala seems to be neverending, with a series of court and government orders, public protests, petitions by environmentalists, and whatnot.
The Kerala High Court directed the expert panel appointed by it and the state government to take a final decision by 3 May on the alternative site suggested by the Forest Department for translocating the rice-eating tusker.
The direction by the high court came on Wednesday, 19 April, after the Forest department said it had an alternative location in mind and would place it before the Committee of Experts (CoE) appointed by it to decide the fate of Arikomban for its consideration.
A special bench of Justices AK Jayasankaran Nambiar and Gopinath P directed the state government and the CoE to consult with each other and arrive at a decision before the next date of hearing on 3 May.
It asked the CoE to examine the feasibility of the alternative site for translocating the tusker and to keep details of the recommended location confidential.
“If the committee approves of the alternative site suggested by the (forest) department, then the process of translocating the elephant can proceed without waiting for the orders of the court,” the bench said.
The court was hearing a PIL by two animal rights groups — People for Animals (PFA), Trivandrum Chapter and the Walking Eye Foundation for Animal Advocacy — opposing the government’s decision to keep the elephant in captivity and train it to become a kumki elephant.
Kumkis are captive elephants trained for use in trapping and capturing wild elephants.
People object moving Arikomban
Initially, the court directed the government to capture and release Arikomban in the Parambikulam Tiger Reserve on the southeastern border of the Palakkad district.
On 12 April, the court gave the state a week to come up with an alternative location to translocate the elephant after the government said that people living close to Parambikulam Tiger Reserve in the Palakkad district of Kerala were objecting to moving Arikomban there as suggested by the CoE.
The government’s submission came during the hearing of a plea moved by CPI(M) MLA from Nenmara Assembly constituency K Babu, seeking a review of the court’s 5 April order agreeing with the CoE suggestion.
The court declined to review its order but gave the state a week to come up with an alternative location.
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The LDF government approached the Supreme Court, saying it had failed in finding an alternative location to translocate Arikomban.
Claiming that human inhabitations or agricultural lands surrounded all the forest areas in the state, the government categorically argued that the high court-ordered translocation would be impossible.
In an apparent setback to the state government, the Supreme Court, on 17 April, rejected its plea challenging the Kerala High Court’s rulings against tranquilising and keeping the wild animal in permanent captivity.
The decision to relocate Arikomban was made following complaints that it frequently raided ration shops and houses to devour rice, its favourite food.
The elephant’s penchant for rice got it the name Arikomban, a portmanteau of two Malayalam words, ari, meaning rice, and komban, tusker.
Not a rogue elephant
According to Idukki-based conservationist MN Jayachandran, Arikomban is neither a “rogue” nor a “menace”, as projected by certain vested interests.
“It enters human habitats as it is hungry, thirsty, and homeless. It lost its traditional habitats to encroachment. He visits villages to find fodder and water, as nothing is left inside the forest. Climate change and human interference have made his survival miserable,” he said.
“If you deplete food and water, where will the animals go? Today, it is Arikomban. Tomorrow, it will be another elephant. How can we continue to capture all elephants and put them in captivity? What is the state doing? Complete apathy is what we need to address,” he stated.
“The problem is, we have authorised human settlements in the forest. We need to revisit revenue records to find out who owns the land,” the high court asked on 12 April during one of the hearings.
The CoE report also held unscientific settlements responsible for elephant-man conflicts.
(With PTI inputs)