Thiruvananthapuram: Thanks to the judiciary, donkeys which ferry tonnes of foodstuff to the hill shrine at Sabarimala in Kerala, often falling ill and becoming prey to wild animals, are about to get a new deal.
Moved by a petition from an animal lover, a Kerala High Court division bench has decreed that all donkeys should be properly inspected by experts before being asked to trek up and down the mountains.
The famed Sabarimala temple is situated on the Western Ghat ranges, at an altitude of 914 metres above sea level and four kilometres uphill from Pamba in Pathanamthitta district in central Kerala. It draws thousands of pilgrims.
This year`s season begins Nov 17. Each year, some 600 donkeys carry essential items required at the temple top and for the numerous shops that come up en route.
Seeing the plight of the donkeys, K. Sandhya from Kozhencherry in Pathanamthitta approached the high court, alleging that the donkeys were exploited by their owners and contractors.
They carry jaggery, rice and other material to the top of the hill. If they fall ill, they are left to fend for themselves where they become easy prey to wild animals.
Judges Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan and P. Bhavadasan Wednesday directed police and executive magistrates in Pathanamthitta to ensure that every donkey has certification from the district animal husbandry officers.
Speaking to IANS, local legislator Raju Abraham said donkeys in the area have been exploited for years.
The donkeys come from Tamil Nadu at the start of every Sabarimala season. "As the work load increases, many donkeys fall ill. When it becomes a headache, the contractors find it unprofitable to take such donkeys back.
"They drive them into the forests, where many die or fall prey to wild animals," said Abraham.
Every year, meetings are held but no action is taken to end the menace.
Veterinarian and former Pathanamthitta district animal husbandry officer Charles Philip said the donkeys need to be numbered -- to know who its owners are.
"Once this is done, the contractor who supplied the donkeys found loitering can be identified. Even though this has been tried out before, when it comes to the implementing part, it fails.
"Another way is to strengthen the clinic that functions at the foothills, where ailing donkeys can be treated," said the now retired official.
The Travancore Devaswom Board, which runs the day-to-day administration of the Sabarimala temple, has pledged to implement the court order.