Punjab governor and UT administrator VP Singh Badnore laments with a twinkle in his eyes that his security detail ensures he gets few chances to walk. So, when he was at the Sukhna Lake recently to watch a stunning array of migratory birds at the rowing canal, he grabbed the opportunity with both legs! He directed that vehicles be banished and his entourage proceeded to walk to the Forest Inspection Hut 1.5 km away.
Ambling along the nature’s trail, Badnore was in his element as wildlife conservation is his passion. As he recounted anecdotes from his shikar and wildlife days in Rajasthan, I asked him about his family’s heirlooms --- the weapons --- and how he had switched to the camera. The former Bhilwara MP reminded me of the legendary Dr Salim Ali, who possessed a fondness for shikar in his younger days and rendered a peerless contribution to conservation.
“Shikar is what gives birth to a deep love for wildlife and we realise the value of conserving it. In my shikar days, I would just shoot a brace of birds for the pot,” Badnore said. After his shikar days, Badnore was the chairperson of the special task force to rehabilitate tigers in Sariska (which led to a similar effort at tiger-less Panna), member of the Rajasthan Wildlife Board for 20 years, and a former member of ‘Project Tiger’s’ steering committee.
Though he now sights his eye keenly along a camera lens, Badnore’s passion and knowledge of fine weapons is evident. He possesses back home in Badnore a Super .30 Holland & Holland (H&H) ‘Royal’ double-barrel rifle, also known as the .300 Magnum, which fires belted rimless cartridges. Though gun geeks question whether a .300 bore serves well a double rifle’s primary role as a “stopper” of charging big game, Badnore says it was “heavy enough” to down a tiger. The Badnores possess two .12 bore shotguns: a H&H ‘Royal’ side-by-side with 26 inch barrels and a Winchester over-under Model 101. A Zbrojovka Brno .22 LR rifle, which is a quality small-bore weapon and popular in India, completes the quartet of venerable sentinels in the Badnore gun rack.
FEET OF CLAY
The arrest of JCT Ltd. chairman, Samir Thapar, Cargo Motors chairman, Jayant Nanda, and 14 other men on December 31, 2016, by the Uttarakhand police has brought a welcome cheer to the new year. The 16 men were remanded to 14 days of judicial custody under Section 26 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, for trespassing and indulging in banned activities and include Romi Bhat from Chandigarh and Rohit Singh Daggar from Panchkula. The police seized cooked/uncooked meat from the Kolhu Chuar forest rest house, which had been occupied by the Thapar group for an annual winter jamboree. The rest house is situated in the reserve forests on the fringes of Corbett National Park. Four samples of meats were dispatched to the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, for forensic tests to determine whether it was poached meat. If so, offences under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, would be added to the charges against the arrested men.
The arrests went viral on social media’s wildlife groups and at the heart of this debate lies the seizure of sporting weapons: a .300 bore telescoped German rifle and 23 cartridges owned by Saravdeep Mann from Karnal, who is a national clay pigeon shooter and son of former Indri MLA Surjeet Singh Mann. Another 15 cartridges of the .375 bore were seized from Arif Hussain from Delhi, and he was booked under Section 25 of the Indian Arms Act, 1959, since he did not possess an arms licence for the cartridges. “Mann was booked under Section 30 of the Arms Act as he did not register his weapon at the nearest police station within 48 hours of his entry into the area,” ASP Kotdwar, Sarita Dobhal, who led the raids, told this writer.
“As many as 171 liquor bottles were seized from the rest house. The group had lit fires and pitched tents without permission in the forest area,” Pauri Garhwal SP, Mukhtar Mohsin, told this writer. The sole permission the group of an estimated 60 possessed --- including women, maids and kids (who were all let off) --- was for three rest house suites booked in the name of one person: Mohinder Singh, son of Hari Singh, resident of Hoshiarpur.
Thapar sympathisers contend that the meat may not turn out to be poached, and that there is nothing wrong in possessing licenced weapons. Well, booze and weapons are prohibited in reserve forests and Hussain did not even possess a licence. Thapar groupies further argue that the rifle was needed for self-defense. If that were so, what was the need for a telescope on the rifle, except to secure pin-point accuracy for “select targets?” Are weapons really needed for self-defence when there are other harmless ways for protection, as are adopted daily by rural folk living on fringes of jungles or other eco-tourists? There was no known threat of a man-eating big cat or rogue elephant in the area to justify carriage of weapons. The Thapar group was on a voluntary visit to the rest house. So, even if there was a declared threat of a rogue/man-eater at Kolhu Chuar, why would anyone voluntarily visit those jungles, and that, too, with families?
Thapar’s friends contend the arrested persons were mere new year revelers enjoying nature but Union women and child development minister, Maneka Gandhi, had choice words to spare for such avowed junglees. She wrote on her official letterhead on Tuesday to Mohsin Mukhtar: “I am happy that you have taken a firm step to end trespassing and poaching in the forests of Uttarakhand. By your prompt action, you have not only brought habitual offenders to book but also prevented poaching of wildlife. I hope that this will come as a lesson to many others who may be breaking the law.”