Hell is Here: Legal petition launched against hulla parties at Indian Supreme Court

July 2018

The award winning picture titled 'Hell is Here'. Courtesy: Biplap Hazra@Sanctuary Wildlife Photography Awards 2017

This photo of elephants being driven away with inflammable missiles by hulla parties (elephant squads) in south Bengal triggered Elephant Family to commission a report into the escalating conflict in the state, and yesterday (July 30) a group of conservationists moved the Indian Supreme Court against the use of hulla parties.

The petitioners — conservationist and author Prerna Bindra, law student Priyanka Bala Rajaram and animal rights activist Pallavi Bala Rajaram — in their Public Interest Litigation (PIL) said that the action of the hulla parties is in direct contradiction to the spirit of the Constitution of India, The Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960.

Hulla parties are groups of people who drive away elephants. “These groups are equipped with gunny sacks tied to a metal rod, dipped in motor oil or other flammable substances, to set the sacks on fire. These lit sacks are then thrown at elephants to scare and drive them away when they venture out of reserve forest areas,” the petition said.

The petition also questions the use of public money to fund the ‘barbaric’ acts to harm innocent animals and ‘appease the local populous’. The petition also mentions the award-winning photograph where a distressed calf and its mother are being bombarded by balls of fire by a group of villagers.

Petitioners’ counsel Sujatha Bala said: “During the hearing on Monday, nobody representing the state of West Bengal turned up. So, the bench of Justice Madan Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta asked the additional solicitor general to look into the matter and fixed August 1 as the next date of hearing.”

The petitioners also questioned the move by Karnataka forest department to lay metal spikes on forest floors to restrict animal movements. “Fire causes injury to elephants and other wild animals. Often, not only does the fire actually hurt the elephants, it panics them, and further aggravates them to retaliate at the hula parties or other innocent bystanders, leading to a situation where entire herds of elephants are rendered uncontrollable, as a result of their violent reactions to the attacks,” the petition says.

Chief wildlife warden Ravi Kant Sinha could not be reached for a comment. Forest minister Binoy Burman said he was not aware of the issue yet.

Elephant Family’s investigation revealed an alarming increase in conflicts caused by the conversion of wild habitat, including migratory corridors, into farmland. To drive the elephants away the forest department has put the onus on farmers meaning that there are no controls, regulations or restrictions on how the hulla parties operate.

“Sadly, statistics show that more people are killed in areas where hulla parties operate; their frenzied activities harass and enrage the elephants causing increased suffering to both people and animals,” says Elephant Family’s head of conservation, Belinda Stewart-Cox.

To end this cycle of conflict Elephant Family now urgently requires funding to help tackle the issues, monitor and regulate the actions of the hulla parties and to work with local communities to find peaceful solutions. We fully support the petition presented to the Supreme Court yesterday.

AUGUST 1 UPDATE:

The Supreme Court today termed as "barbaric" the use of spikes and fireballs to drive away elephants and said that states should desist from using any such methods.

"Wherever the spikes or fireballs are used for driving elephants, remedial steps should be taken by the concerned states for removing the spikes and desisting from using the fireballs," the bench said and posted the matter for hearing on August 7.

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Source: Times of India