GULABKALI IS 35years old. Malnourished and haggard, her moth-eaten ears are disfigured with numerous flea and parasite bites. Gulabkali has small wounds all over her body, some of them so fresh that blood still oozes out of them. Sitting ditch unable to move her chained legs, she winces occasionally and grunts in pain.
“Arre dekho kyo aavaj kar rahi hai?” (Have a look! Find out why is she making noises?) yells Mohammed Akram. Suddenly out of nowhere, a man emerges and moves towards Gulabkali and examines her waist. “Malik khoon nikal raha hai. Kal samaan jyaada bandha tha or rassi kas ke bandhi thi” (She is bleeding. She was overloaded yesterday with goods and the rope was too tight. That is why she is grunting), he says.
Yes, Gulabkali is a pathetic elephant and Mohammed Akram her owner. Gulabkali is one among the 18 surviving elephants inhabiting the vast patch of land, a few kilometers from ITO Bridge. As one moves towards Lakshmi Nagar over the ITO bridge he suddenly comes across a signboard saying “Yahan haathi rehta hai, J J camp haathi ka” (elephants stay here).
Though the elephant population in the Capital has gone down drastically due to Government restrictions, the business of keeping elephant continues to be lucrative. The elephant-owners make a big hue and cry about the difficulties they face in maintaining the elephants. In reality, the owners are just doing fine.
Take the case of Mohammed Akram. He has four elephants. Two out of them are owned by Dabour India. Dabour India owner Vivek Burman pays Rs 15000 per elephant to Mohammed Akram. Over and above the Rs 30,000 from Burman, Akram makes a neat sum from sending the elephant to various marriages and functions, besides supplying them for Government functions like Independence and Republic Days. For a marriage function Akram charges Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000. Though he denies it, the elephants are sometimes overloaded with goods-from grains to grass-and used as carriers in various parts of the Capital.
Abdul Hasan is another case in point. Last year, he lost his elephant Razia who was electrocuted. Within days of losing Razia, Hasan “managed” to purchase another elephant for Rs 1,85,000.
Almost all the other owners have not done too badly in the elephant business. Rafiq has four elephants, each costing Rs 3 lakh; Yaqub has four, Zaheer two, Rashid one and Dule khan two. The common factor among the elephant owners is their prosperity. Though they reside in slums, their pukkah houses and their income would give any middle class man a complex.
All of them claim that they feed the elephants 2 quintals of wheat flour, bajra, green grass etc twice a day. In other words, they spend anywhere between Rs 500 and Rs 600 a day, per elephant. Sadly, these claims do not go with the state of the elephants.
However, it is not just the owners who can be blamed for the plight of the elephants.
The government, especially the Environment Ministry, has no clue about elephants in the Capital.
Chief Wildlife Warden Naresh Kumar, who is also the Additional District Magistrate, admitted his ignorance. “I do not know the number of elephants in Delhi. And no, we do not have a mechanism to regulate their entry into the city,” he said.
To bring in an elephant into the Capital, all one has to do is wave an Origin Certificate (OC) showing the elephant’s origin. Moreover, those who have brought elephants from States like Bihar and Assam know how easy it is to get an OC. Besides the OC, absolutely no sort of registration or licensing is required. Theoretically, the Governed has banned the trading of elephants, but there is no control over the entry and the treatment of elephants in the Capital.
Mr Deb Roy, former additional IG (Wildlife), said: “Nobody is bothered about elephants in Delhi. The Government, after making a few polite noises, will lapse into slumber”.
Ms Maneka Gandhi, who has filed a writ about the ownership of elephants in circuses, also expressed her concern: “Private companies are increasingly showing interest in using elephants in advertising and children’s parties. I am not too sure of the way they are treated. I do intend to take up this issue as soon as I get adequate information,” she added.
However, until the time a concerned activist takes up the cause of privately owned elephants or for that matter the Government wakes up, Ramkali and her ilk will continue to be misused.
By Ketan Tanna