Due importance has not been given by officers to the case of an elephant named Lakshmi, which went missing with its caretaker from the capital on July 6, said principal secretary of environment and forest Sanjeev Khirwar in a letter dated July 17 to Delhi Police chief Amulya Patnaik.
The letter, sources said, sought the recovery of the elephant and action against those who attacked forest officials on July 6, when the department had gone to seize the animal. “Strict action should be taken against those who attacked forest officials, and the person who fled with the elephant must be apprehended,” Khirwar said.
Joint CP (Eastern Range) Alok Kumar said police are investigating the case: “Teams have been set up to trace and apprehend the four accused. When forest officials went to seize the elephant, one of them was manhandled and an FIR was registered.”
The matter spiralled after a committee formed by the chief wildlife warden in January 2016 found poor housing and health conditions, and lack of suitable space and water facilities for six domesticated elephants in Delhi. This violated the 2008 guidelines by the Central environment ministry for the care and management of captive elephants, the department said.
Following re-inspection of the sites, a notice by the chief wildlife warden in April 2017 advised owners to surrender the elephants within seven days, or they would be seized.
A long case of High Court petitions by the owners against forest department orders followed, with committees formed to inspect and look for alternative locations to house the elephants— within and outside the capital.
In October 2018, three elephants— Chandani, Gangaram and Dhonmati— were sent from Delhi to Gujarat at their owners’ request. Three others— Hiragaj, Lakshmi and Moti— were still in Delhi, and the chief wildlife warden asked the owners of the latter two to surrender the animals by March 1, 2019. Later that month, a single bench of the HC dismissed a petition filed by Yusuf Ali, Lakshmi’s caretaker, and directed that the elephant be surrendered.
The next hearing on the case is on August 5. In the meantime, the forest department received a confirmation from the Haryana chief wildlife warden on July 1 to move Lakshmi to an elephant rehabilitation centre in Ban Santor. However, on July 6, when forest officials went to seize the elephant, Ali’s family allegedly attacked them while he fled with the elephant.