In one significant order, Judge GR Swaminathan of Madras High Court allowed the caretaker of an elephant to retain custody after considering the 20 year bond between them.
Justice Swaminathan noted, “Elephants are known to be sensitive and to be confident. You have passed the so-called “mirror test”. The German naturalist Peter Wohlleben says after years of direct, personal observation that animals also feel the same feelings that humans are capable of. Feelings of love, sadness, and compassion are equally found in animals.
The court heard the petition from caretaker Sheik Mohammed from Virudhunagar district. He had bought the elephant Lalitha in 2000 and applied for ownership transfer in 2002. The application was rejected in 2020. He applied for the rejection decision to be reversed and issued the certificate of ownership.
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 pleased me 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 20 years … The department from time to time issued guidelines which the petitioner followed. 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 is intact, ”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 own, hold, control, or transfer a wild animal without prior written permission from the relevant agency. The court therefore ruled that the request for the certificate was rightly denied. However, the court ordered the authorities to allow the caretaker to keep the elephant and allowed the authorities to inspect the elephant at any time.
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