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Jaya joy for jaded jumbos

Chennai, Aug. 27: Even elephants need a break, especially if they belong to the working class.

Realising that temple elephants, which are usually a source of income to their mahouts through the year, are being overworked, Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa has announced that they will be granted a month’s “holiday” every year.

A statement announced by the chief minister said the 41 tuskers, attached to various temples in the state, cannot be made to work during this cool-off period when they will “rest and recuperate” in a common “medical-cum-get-well camp”.

The move — greeted with enthusiasm by animal lovers and hailed by even her political rival, DMK chief M. Karunanidhi — came on the eve of Ganesh Chaturthi, when the elephant-headed, obstacle-removing god of the Hindu pantheon is worshipped.

It also revealed the softer side of the iron lady, who recently showed no mercy while cracking down hard on striking government employees, virtually bringing them to their knees.

Jayalalithaa’s decision was taken at a meeting at the secretariat with ministers and top officials of the departments of forest and Hindu religious and charitable endowments (HR & CE).

Sources said Amma was prompted by the plight of a temple elephant in Mylapore in the city which was “treated harshly” by its mahout, who “misused” it for seeking alms on the streets of the capital.

“Elephants, which have an important place in our religious beliefs and practices, deserve our full care and sympathy,” Jayalalithaa said after the meeting and added that she had issued guidelines on how the temple pachyderms should be treated and maintained.

While veterinary experts will advice the HR & CE department and monitor the health of the elephants, Jayalalithaa said the pachyderms should no longer be made to stand on rough or uneven surfaces in temples as that could damage their legs in the long run.

The chief minister further ordered that the elephants should be made to stand only under a shade in temples and on grassy patches and sufficient water should be made available to keep their system “cool”.

The mahouts, she emphasised, cannot force them to work more than a specified number of hours every day.

At the common annual health camps, the pachyderms will be given food supplements, which will invigorate their health sufficiently to help them return to their temples with more vitality, Jayalalithaa said.

The chief minister also ordered that a team, including the ministers and top officials of the HR & CE and forest departments, should visit the Sri Krishna temple in Guruvayur, Kerala, to see how the elephants there are being maintained and submit a report to the government.

Guidelines for conducting the annual medical retreat for the pachyderms in Tamil Nadu will be based on the team’s recommendations, she added.

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