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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 18:55 GMT
Delhi's cure for jumbo traffic problem

By Ayanjit Sen
BBC correspondent in Delhi

Indian elephant in south India
The elephants are used for ceremonial purposes

Elephants in the Indian capital Delhi, which used to move freely around the city, will now have to obey new traffic laws.

Police will only allow the movement of elephants for a few hours in the afternoon and at night, when traffic is usually quieter than in the morning and evening.

Until now, elephants used to move around on Delhi's roads at any time of the day, leading to a serious problem with traffic congestion.

There have also been many collisions between elephants and vehicles in the city.


Elephants, along with ox carts, lone wandering cows and goats are a common sight on Delhi's roads.

Accidents do occur sometimes at night when the elephants are not clearly visible
Traffic police officer

Disobeying the new rules carries heavy penalties.

"Elephants owners will be fined or jailed for a month if they do not obey the rules," said a traffic police officer.

"There are 48 different categories of road users in Delhi, ranging from elephants and camels to a plethora of mechanised and non-mechanised modes of transport," a senior traffic police officer added.

The decision to restrict the times during which elephants can move around the capital was taken at a meeting between the elephant owners and police.

More than 30 elephants, which live with their handlers along the banks of the Yamuna river in the city, are mostly used for marriage and religious ceremonies as well as advertising and promotions.


One elephant owner, Mohammed Saleem, told the BBC this decision will prove hard for the animal.

Elephants by the river
Around 30 elephants live by the Yamuna river in Delhi

"If an elephant has to go from one part of the city to another, it has to start off at night and it only returns back in the wee hours of the next morning, after completing its work - which is tiring," said Mr Saleem.

The elephants in the city are brought from the states of Assam and Bihar.

Suhas, another elephant handler, said they control these elephants on the busy roads by tapping their feet on their side as they ride them.

"Accidents do occur sometimes at night when the elephants are not clearly visible because of their dark skin," said a traffic police officer.

A decision to attach reflectors to elephants was taken a few months ago in order to make them more visible to drivers at night and limit the chance of collisions.

Wildlife officials have expressed concern about the use of elephants in the capital for commercial purposes.

India has about 5,000 domesticated elephants.

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