CHENNAI: In a big blow to the MR Palayam elephant rescue and rehabilitation centre in Tiruchy, the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court has directed the Tamil Nadu forest department not to collect maintenance fee from a private owner whose elephant was seized and housed in the centre.
L Indira, the owner of 55-year-old female elephant Malachi, received two demand notices on May 2 and July 7 seeking payment of Rs 9,21,678 and Rs 63,265 towards care and maintenance.
Challenging it, Indira had filed a writ petition before the Madurai Bench. The State counsel argued that according to Rule 14 of the Tamil Nadu Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules, 2011, the forest department was entitled to recover the cost of maintenance.
The rule says, “The aged elephants which could not be maintained by the temple/private authority shall be taken by the forest department after due checkup by a veterinary officer. The cost of maintenance should be borne by the HR&CE department or temple or private authority.
” However, the court said, “Only if the elephant in question could not be maintained by the person concerned and it is handed over to the forest department, then alone the cost of maintenance should be borne by the original custodian. In this case, the petitioner (Indira) did not surrender possession of the animal. Therefore, Rule 14 of the said Rules will not have any application to the case on hand.
The petitioner is not only deprived of the animal but has also been called upon to bear the cost of maintenance. Nothing can be more unfair. Therefore, the demand notices impugned in this writ petition are quashed,” Justice GR Swaminathan said in the order dated October 1.
When contacted, a top forest official told Express, Malachi was taken over by the department following a court order. “We will review the order and take necessary steps to protect the interest of the government.” Meanwhile, Deepak Nambiar, founder of Elephas Maximus Indicus Trust (EMIT), claimed MR Palayam centre was established illegally.
“I have got RTI replies to prove that the centre is operating without approvals. What is more glaring is that Project Elephant has released Rs 94 lakh to the centre. The forest department is supposed to get approval from the Central Zoo Authority and the Supreme Court’s clearance to establish the elephant centre,” he said. In March, the special government pleader appearing for the forest department accepted before the Madurai Bench it has applied for appropriate license from the Central government for MR Palayam centre and the application was “under process and active consideration”.