In a bizarre case of custodial death, a writ of habeas corpus was filed seeking to produce a bull that was being ‘illegally detained’ by the police, which eventually died. The landmark case was finally disposed of on August 9, after the High Court granted the petitioners liberty to apply for compensation.
The petition was filed by Muzzammil Ansari, a bullock cart driver and Maruti Salunkhe. In 2011, Muzzammil had planned to sacrifice the eight-year-old bull as qurbani on the occasion of Bakri Id. He purchased the bull from an abattoir in Deonar for Rs 25,000 along with the requisite taxes and BMC charges totalling to an additional Rs 8,000. He then hired Salunkhe to transport the bull from Deonar to Byculla.
Fate, however, had other things in mind for the bull, which was unloaded at Maulana Azad Road on October 8, 2011. The frightened animal managed to escape from Salunkhe’s custody and ran off towards Nagpada. Salunkhe and Muzzammil, along with his family members, were led on a fruitless chase through the lanes of Clare Road, Byculla and eventually DB Marg, where they ultimately lost sight of the animal.
The men then registered an FIR at the DB Marg police station. About 10 pm on the same night, the police had received a tip-off that a bull had been captured in Khetwadi.
It was eventually handed over to the BMC, who lodged it in their cattle pound in Malad the next day. Despite doing the rounds of the Metropolitan Magistrate’s Court and having an order in his favour, Muzzammil was unable to have the bull released in time for Id. It was later learnt that the bull had died due to cardiac arrest on October 25.
Muzzammil’s petition demanded compensation of Rs 2 lakh from the state for the bull’s death. Muzzammil then approached the High Court as his fundamental right to practice his religion was denied to him as a result.
On July 24 this year, Suresh Madane, a BMC assistant health officer filed an affidavit claiming the bull was being taken for Qurbani without proper permissions. “Therefore, police authorities detained the bull and handed it over to the BMC,” the affidavit stated.
Another affidavit by inspector Lokesh Kanse details his failed attempts to retrieve the bull from the NGO. Interestingly Kanse in his affidavit states, “[Salunkhe] had filed an application before the Metropolitan Magistrate for returning the bull and stated he needed the bull for plying a bullock cart. It was not his case that the bull was brought to Mumbai for slaughter.”
According to the BMC affidavit, the bull had been in BMC custody for a total of 17 days before it was handed over to an NGO, in whose custody it eventually died.
Cause of bull’s death
A division bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar and AR Joshi on August 9 disposed of the petition and ruled, “The only relief that can be pursued by the petitioners is of payment of compensation. The cause of death of the bull is being inquired into by the Magistrate. Whether [Muzzammil] will be entitled for compensation or otherwise, in our opinion, would depend on the outcome of the said inquiry.”
What is habeas corpus?
Latin for ‘You must present in court’, or, ‘produce the body’, habeas corpus is a legal action which requires a person being detained to be produced before the court. It is a constitutional safeguard against illegal detention by police.