New Delhi, Jan 9 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Thursday declined to hand over the custody of elephant Lakshmi to a 26-year-old mahout, who had moved a habeas corpus plea before the court seeking her release from alleged illegal detention.

A bench, headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant, declined to entertain the plea of Saddam, the mahout of the 47-year-old pachyderm, who sought direction for her release from “illegal detention” at the Elephant Rehabilitation Centre and expressed his willingness to bring her back to Delhi.

The apex court queried Saddam’s lawyer Wills Mathews, how does a habeas corpus plea be applicable to an elephant, and asked the lawyer to furnish legal documents to establish his right of possession. As the lawyer said he had no document to prove the ownership or the legal right of possession, the court replied if the elephant is under a government authority, then the petitioner would have to produce valid documents to get Lakshmi’s custody.

“Is the elephant a citizen of India?” the court asked.

Lakshmi was in news a few months back when she was allegedly taken away by the mahout before Delhi Police rescued her and took to a forest shelter. The court allowed Mathews to withdraw the petition with the liberty to approach the High Court.

“Counsel for the petitioner seeks permission to withdraw this petition with liberty to approach the High Court for appropriate relief. Permission sought for is granted. The writ petition is dismissed as withdrawn with liberty to approach the High Court for appropriate relief in accordance with law,” said the court in its order.

The plea alleged that Lakshmi was not kept properly in the rehabilitation centre at Haryana. Saddam, in his plea, said he has been with the elephant for over 10 years, and had developed a special bond. The petition cited the top court’s judgment in Jallikattu case to establish animals have the right to live with dignity.

In July last year, the elephant had gone missing. The Delhi Forest Department traced her after two months. The police had “detained” Saddam along with the elephant from Yamuna Pushta area Delhi in September. “The petitioner, immediately after being released from Jail on November 25, 2019 enquired about Lakshmi and came to know from reliable sources that she is sick and needs immediate care and treatment. Presently Lakshmi is in a hostile atmosphere without love and care, and the medicines have its limitations,” he said in the petition.




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