Peeved over 59 camels not being released to their original owners despite court directions in this regard,the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Thursday ordered that a criminal case be registered against the authorities of Sanjay Gandhi Animal Care Centre,an animal shelter in New Delhi,where BJP MP Maneka Gandhi is a trustee.
Coming down heavily on the shelter for confiscating camels of poor villagers who,according to the centre were about to sell the camels in an animal fare for slaughter,a division bench headed by acting Chief Justice Jasbir Singh trashed the allegations as wild and reckless.
The court also took umbrage at the shelter demanding Rs 25 lakh from the owners for the upkeep of their camels for a mere seven days. Clarifying,Advocate Gurminder Singh counsel for the shelter said the amount was raised only to deter those who wanted to slaughter the camels. Not a single penny will be charged from anyone… the motive was certainly not to make money but to save the camels, he added.
Holding the conduct of the shelter and its authorities as mind-boggling,the bench said it was unimaginable how the authorities could have demanded such a hefty amount,as if the animals were kept in a five-star hotel. It added that the stand taken by the authorities was not justified.
The development took place during the hearing of a suo motu petition where the court had issued notices to Haryana Police and the shelter after a Gurgaon court referred the matter to it. On May 15,the high court had directed the centre to release the camels forthwith to the owners.
When the matter came up for hearing on Thursday,Gurminder Singh said the camels were sick and thus,could not be released. Medical reports were also placed before the court.
Rubbishing the reports,the bench said these appear to have been obtained. Initially opining that contempt of court proceedings be initiated against the shelter authorities,the court said: Instead of releasing the animals,reports have been obtained to show them (camels) sick.
The court also slammed the callous attitude of the police for not making any serious efforts to get the camels released from the centre,where nine out of the 68 camels had died. Expressing regret over the harassment meted out to the owners,the court directed the police to register an FIR against authorities of the shelter.
Earlier,suspecting a nexus between the police and the shelter,Gurgaon chief judicial magistrate (CJM) had referred to an incident where eight poor persons had alleged that 68 camels owned by them had been seized by the police and released to Gandhis shelter. They were also arrested following a complaint by the shelter,which alleged that the camels were being taken for slaughter. The police had booked the owners under Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act-1960.
The CJM,in her April order,had observed that the police had diluted the charges against the accused,who were later released on bail. The judge added that while the camels,which were released to the shelter,were not returned to the owners,the centre demanded Rs 25 lakh from them for feeding and preserving the camels for seven days. Recommending a probe by a central agency,the Gurgaon court had passed damning remarks against the police and the shelter.
When contacted,Maneka Gandhi said: What wrong have we done? The amount was not to be charged but was only raised to deter the accused from killing the camels. We will certainly challenge the high court order.