HC permits caretaker to maintain custody of elephant

In one significant order, Judge GR Swaminathan of Madras High Court, considering the bond between an elephant ‘Lalitha’ and her 20 year old caretaker, allowed the caretaker to retain custody of the elephant. The court also allowed the authorities concerned to inspect the elephant at any time.

Justice Swaminathan noted, “Elephants are known to be sensitive and to be confident. You have passed the so-called “mirror test”. The German natural scientist Peter Wohlleben had said after years of direct, personal observation that animals also feel the same feelings that humans are capable of.

The court heard a petition from caretaker Sheik Mohammed in Virudhunagar district. He bought the elephant from the previous owner in 2000 and applied for the transfer of ownership in 2002. The application was rejected in 2020. He requested that the rejection order be lifted and the certificate of ownership given to him.

Given the plight of the elephant and her caretaker, the judge conducted a surprise inspection to determine the status of Lalitha in Chokkanathanputhur, Virudhunagar District. “When I got to the place, I found that she was being fed abundantly. What made me happy was that she wasn’t chained at all. I checked to see if she had any signs of injury. There was none. The elephant looked happy and healthy. Lalitha showed great kindness, ”said the judge.

Article 51A (g) of the Constitution of India urges us to have compassion for sentient beings. Lalitha is entitled to express its normal behavior. She has been with her caretaker for more than twenty years ……… ..The department has from time to time issued guidelines that have been followed by the petitioner. A microchip was implanted in her body so that her movements could be tracked. She has developed a good bond with her caretakers. Forcibly moving to a strange environment will certainly traumatize them. I was therefore of the opinion that the approach we are taking in custody cases should also be followed in the case of Lalitha, ”the judge stated.

Further, when the judge asked the caretakers about Lalitha’s upkeep, he was told that she had been taken to some of the well-known temples and dargahs in southern Tamil Nadu and that religious event organizers are paying for her majestic attendance. “Lalitha doesn’t beg on the streets. Your dignity will be preserved, ”said the judge. He noted that the veterinarians appointed by the department had confirmed that it was properly maintained by the petitioner.

The state had argued that no person could possess, hold, control, or transfer a wild animal without the prior written permission of the relevant agency. The court therefore ruled that the request for the certificate was rightly denied. The court ordered the authorities to allow the caretaker to retain custody of the elephant and gave them the freedom to inspect the elephant at any time.

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