Madras HC allows elephant to stay with its caretaker of 20 years despite not having the required certificate for possession

A writ petition was filed by Sheik Muhammed challenging the actions of the State Wildlife Department to take custody of “Lalitha”. Though he had made an application seeking ownership certificate, the department rejected it. The petitioner said that he had been maintaining the pachyderm since 2000, after purchasing it from another person. She was originally purchased by one G. Thangappan to whom the department issued certificate of ownership in 1988, but eventually changed hands and reached Sheik Muhammed in 2000.

The department pointed out that as per Section 39(3) of the Wildlife Protection Act, one should get prior permission from the authorities for transferring the ownership of a wild animal. The previous sales of Lalitha were not carried out with such permission of the department. Therefore, the petitioner’s possession of the elephant was illegal, said the department in the counter-affidavit filed before the Court.

The court placed reliance on Article 51A(g) of the Constitution and the SC judgment in the case Animal Welfare Board of India v. A.Nagaraja and others. The department was issuing directives from time to time and they were complied with by the petitioner. Micro chip has been implanted in her body so that her movements can be tracked. The court said that the peculiar case demanded the approach taken in child custody matters.

The petitioner was directed to intimate in writing the annual itinerary to the authorities upon which they should give standing permission. The court clarified that respondents are at liberty to inspect the animal at any time. The court added that it is open to the parties to seek variation of the arrangement if the circumstances warrant. The HC stopped the requisite department from taking the elephant named “Lalitha” into its custody even though the present caretaker did not have the requisite transfer certificate under the Wildlife Protection Act to keep its possession.

A single bench comprising of Justice GR Swaminathan made the following observations upon special inspection into the premises, consultations with veterinarians: “She has been attending religious functions. She is not accustomed to begging in temples as she has lived lavishly. If she is removed from the petitioner’s custody, a deep psychological wound will be inflicted on her.”

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