In an Elephant Soup

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The travails of Malayalam superstar Mohanlal can be traced to a pair of tusks

The travails of Malayalam superstar Mohanlal can be traced to a pair of tusks

Which is the best place to keep seized prop­erty? Kerala’s forest depart­ment has an answer—with the same person from whom the property was seized. In this case, Malayalam film actor Mohanlal, who has been deal­ing with a rather peculiar prob­lem after two pairs of elephant tusks were found during an Income Tax Department raid on his home last year.

A forest department enquiry revealed that a friend had gift­ed the tusks to Mohanlal. The certificate of ownership had, however, not been changed. A case was registered, but the tusks remained in Mohanlal’s possession.

An activist group, the All Kerala Anti-Corruption and Human Rights Protection Council (ACHRPC), chal­lenged this in court. The lat­ter, however, dismissed the pe­tition citing a provision in the Criminal Procedure Code that enables the investigating of­ficer to give custody of proper­ty, if it is practically difficult to move, to ‘any person executing a bond’. Obviously, this could hardly apply to tusks, and so the ACHRPC has filed an ap­peal in the High Court, which will be heard next week.
The ACHRPC claims that the tusks staying with Mohanlal risks the possible tampering of evidence. “The rule of law is applicable to eve­ryone. The rich and influential are not exempt,” says ACHRPC President Isaac Verghese.

High Court lawyer Sangeetha Lakshamana, though, sees no reason to be­lieve that evidence will be tam­pered with. “Technically, the property does not belong to Mohanlal, even if it is in his house. In fact, he has a great­er responsibility to keep the property as it is. Any tamper­ing of evidence will drag him into more trouble,” she says.

Meanwhile, the state’s Forest Minister, KB Ganesh Kumar, a former actor, sent a request letter to the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests to ‘give one more op­portunity to the public un­der a 2003 notification to de­clare illegal possessions of wild stock and trophies’. The cut-off time for declaration when this notification was passed had been 180 days. Kumar de­nied that he was revisiting this notification after eight years for Mohanlal’s benefit. In any case, the Centre dismissed the request.