The family which owned Bijli, the 58-year-old elephant that succumbed to work- and age-related illnesses three weeks ago, has lost the ownership of their second elephant Lakshmi. The forest department now plans to shift the 18-year-old pachyderm to a shelter.
After three weeks of deliberations, the principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Madhya Pradesh, cancelled Lakshmi’s ownership certificate based on a request made by the Thane forest division and a report of expert veterinarians that said the owners are neglecting the elephant’s health.
Lakshmi’s owners Ratiram Goswami and his wife Ram Devi had purchased her at the animal fair in Sonepur, Bihar, and had acquired the ownership certificate from the chief wildlife warden, Madhya Pradesh, on May 21, 2005, when she was six years old. For long, her home has been a large industrial area in Sai Dham area of Mulund (West).
The July 15 order of the Madhya Pradesh forest department, a copy of which is with HT, says: “Lakshmi’s owners treated her cruelly, proper medical care was not given. She is made to walk on congested roads, making her vulnerable to accidents. Lack of an appropriate shelter, vaccination, medical care and diet has made her weak, and hence under section 42 of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, we cancel Lakshmi’s ownership certificate held by Goswami with immediate effect.”
After Lakshmi, only two other elephants are privately owned in the city — Roopkali and Lakshmee — owned by Sarish Pandey from Dahisar. The forest department is obtaining their ownership certificates from Pandey.
The Thane forest division is preparing to shift Lakshmi to either the Agra or Mathura elephant rescue centres of non-government organisation Wildlife SOS. “The cancellation of Lakshmi’s certificate means the forest department is Lakshmi’s legal custodian. Our challenge is to shift her safely to the rescue centre in Uttar Pradesh,” said GT Chavan, deputy conservator of forests, Thane forest division.
‘We will move court if not compensated’
Mumbai: “If they plan to take away Lakshmi, they should pay compensation. Across India, elephants are privately owned and are actively used for tough tasks such as log-pulling and ferrying tourists for long hours. We are being targeted,” said Lakshmi’s owner Ratiram Goswami, who has moved the pachyderm to an industrial estate compound in Thane after Bijli’s death, allegedly due to pressure from NGOs and forest department officials.
The family says it has not been informed of the decision yet. “Initially, they asked us to take the elephant back to our village in Madhya Pradesh. Then they pressurised us to take her outside Mumbai and restricted us from taking her out. If they take her away, we would approach the court,” said Goswami’s wife Ram Devi, whose family of more than 15 has been largely dependent on the elephants for livelihood.
Pawan Sharma from Resqink Wildlife Welfare Association, who helped Bijli’s medical care, said, “The elephants should not be used during functions, but the family should be compensated and the mahout should be given a job at the rescue centre.”