In a crucial verdict, the Kerala High Court held that a public servant must give preference to human life rather than animal life. Quashing the lower court order directing payment of compensation to the owner of an elephant which was shot dead by a police officer, as the animal ran amok, court said a public servant shall never doubt when human life is in peril. 

The division bench gave the clarification while allowing an appeal filed by a police officer who was ordered to pay compensation to the owner of an elephant which he had shot dead as it posed threat to human life. 

The court clarified that a public servant, who is on duty, is supposed to obviate any danger to humans caused by a dangerous animal, must give preference to human life as it stands guaranteed under our Constitution. The officer has the authority to shoot the animal if he is authorised to use firearm, but the circumstance must justify his action. He shall use the weapon if there is no other way to save human life and the nature of animal is not a matter of concern. There is no hesitation or doubt that preference must be given to human life, the court said. 

Giving its verdict, court expressed deep concern and anguish over the condition of captive elephants and recurrent incidents of human-animal conflicts in the state. "Processions and exhibitions are exposing captive elephants to a hostile atmosphere for a long time and this amounts to cruelty towards animals," the court observed. 

The division bench also said that provisions of Kerala Captive Elephants (Management and Maintenance) Rules, 2003, is not enough to prevent cruelty towards jumbos. The legislature must initiate necessary measures to ensure that poor animals are freed from exhibitions and processions held as part of festivals and allow them to live in their natural habitat, court said.