Worship of live cobras a crime: HC

Worship of live cobras a crime: HC
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Weeks before Nag Panchami, HC passes final order on plea by Sangli villagers who capture cobras, says it's not an essential aspect of Hindu rituals.

Days after the Bombay High Court addressed a petition around the worship of live cobras — weeks before Nag Panchami on August 1 — the court has issued a final order, directing that such worship is a crime, exposing those guilty of it to three years imprisonment for violating the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

The HC on Thursday rejected the plea of Battis Shirala residents from Sangli, remarking that the worship of live cobras was not an essential aspect of Hindu rituals.

The villagers, known for worshipping live King Cobras after capturing them from forests, had last month filed a writ petition in response to a 2013 Public Interest Litigation by a wildlife lover, who had sought the implementation of the Act and requested the HC to direct the State to take steps to end the capture of cobras.

The villagers' plea had requested the court to continue allowing the custom of catching live snakes, as it was 'a part of the Hindu religion'.

The villagers, after capturing live cobras from forests for Nag Panchami and worshipping them, habitually release them back into their habitat again. It was also submitted to the court in the plea that capturing snakes is a socio-religious ceremony under Hindu law, and that the Wildlife Protection Act was coming in the way of articles 25 and 26 of the Constitution, which give citizens the right to practice their religion.

The HC had last week ordered the State government to form a committee to frame a policy around this issue, and submit a report on it by August 31. A division bench of Justice Abhay S Oka and Justice A S Chandurkar, while finally rejecting the villagers' petition on Thursday said, "Capturing cobras is against the provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act."

The division bench also stated, "The capture and worship of live snakes for worship is not an essential part of the Hindu religion. Capturing live snakes and later releasing them back into the wild could cause them harm, which is against the law. Under the Constitution, citizens are duty-bound to protect these creatures."

Last week, the HC had asked the State government to draw up comprehensive plan and establish machinery to take constructive steps, for the education of the general public and the implementation of the Wildlife Protection Act.

This was to make sure that Nag Panchami could be celebrated as per tradition, without hurting religious sentiments, but also without causing any harm to snakes.

As per the Act, trapping snakes or even attempting to do so is a crime punishable with imprisonment extending to three years, a fine extending to Rs 25,000, or both.
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