Noida: The Noida Police has booked reality television show "Bigg Boss" winner Elvish Yadav and arrested five people over the alleged use of snake venom at rave parties, officials said on Friday.
Yadav, a popular YouTuber and social media influencer, refuted the charges and expressed his willingness to cooperate with police in the investigation, even as BJP MP and environmentalist Maneka Gandhi called for his arrest.
Nine snakes, including cobras, were rescued from the possession of the arrested accused who came to a banquet hall in Sector 51 here on Thursday for a party, which was a trap laid by animal rights group People for Animals (PFA), the officials said.
Police have seized 20 millilitres of snake venom stored in a plastic bottle from the possession of the accused. The seized venom has been sent for testing to ascertain if it is psychotropic in nature to induce a party drug-like effect in the human body.
An FIR has been lodged under the provisions of the Wildlife (Protection) Act and for criminal conspiracy following a complaint from Gaurav Gupta of the PFA, which is run by Gandhi, against Yadav and five others for allegedly partying at the banquet hall where snake venom was made available, police said.
Gupta has alleged that Yadav, who won the second season of the OTT version of "Bigg Boss" this year, along with his associates, illegally organised rave parties and shot videos with snakes and snake venom in Noida and other parts of the National Capital Region (NCR).
"Five people were arrested from the banquet hall and nine snakes were rescued from their possession," a police spokesperson said.
Those held have been identified as Rahul (32), Teetunath (45), Jaikaran (50), Narayan (50) and Ravinath (45), all residents of Moharband village in southeast Delhi's Badarpur, police said.
Deputy Commissioner of Police (in-charge), Noida Ram Badan Singh said, "In his complaint, Gaurav Gupta has claimed that he had contacted Elvish Yadav for a rave party and to arrange for snakes. Gupta was then given the phone number of Rahul Yadav after which these people (accused), including snake charmers and Rahul Yadav, were called."
"A team of forest officers and police went to the spot and these five people were arrested, while 20 ml of snake venom was seized," Singh, who is also the DCP of the anti-narcotics cell, said.
According to police, Elvish Yadav was not present at the banquet hall in Noida at the time of the incident.
The officer said police are collecting evidence and will investigate the YouTuber's role in the case, following which legal action would be taken accordingly.
Elvish Yadav (26) took to social media to refute the charges against him, dubbing them "baseless, fake and not even 1 per cent true".
"I am ready to fully cooperate with the UP police. I also request the UP police, administration and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath that if my involvement is found, I will take full responsibility," Yadav said, adding that he has nothing to do with the case.
Divisional Forest Officer Pramod Kumar Srivastava said five cobras, two sand boas, a python and a rat snake were rescued during the action.
"The charges framed in the case under the Wildlife (Protection) Act are stringent, non-bailable and can attract a jail term of seven years. The snake venom seized from the accused has been sent for a laboratory test to ascertain its quality," Srivastava told PTI, explaining the severity of the crime.
An official source said even in illegal acts like these, thugs often dupe party organisers and revellers by giving them non-psychotropic substances in the name of snake venom.
The FIR has been lodged under Wildlife (Protection) Act sections 9 (prohibition of hunting), 39 (hunted animals to be government property), 48(A) (restriction on transportation of wildlife), 49 (prohibition of dealings in animal articles), 50 (empowers forest officer to arrest person involved in an offence against the Act), 51 (violation of chapter VA of Act will lead to imprisonment which may extend to seven years) and section 120B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Meanwhile, Gandhi said, "We called him up (Elvish Yadav) and said we are planning to party and asked him to send his people. He first sent his people to confirm that it is not a trap. He appeared convinced, so he sent a few people with snakes and venom. He supplies it in Gurgaon and Noida."
"Police and the forest department take zero initiative in cases of animals. NGOs have to take action against every crime on animals, including rape cases. We (government) have formed a Wildlife Crime Control Bureau. It has been 15 years since it was formed, but none of the officers ever stepped out of the office even once. But I am happy that police responded immediately in this case," she told reporters in Delhi.
Gandhi said cobras die when they lose their venom because the venom helps them digest food. She added that if one takes out the venom, cobras will not be able to eat anything and starve to death. There are a very few cobras and pythons left in this country now, she said, noting that "owning or using them is considered a serious crime".
"He (Elvish Yadav) has escaped for now but his arrest should definitely take place," the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian said.
The use of snake venom as a recreational drug is not a common practice in India and is considered extremely dangerous and potentially life-threatening.
The use and possession of drugs, including substances derived from snake venom or any other controlled substances, are governed by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
However, the NDPS Act has not been invoked in the case as drugs were not found at the spot, according to an official.
A rave party is a vibrant, all-night EDM (electronic dance music) gathering with immersive music, lighting and a communal vibe. These parties are organised in diverse locations, with farmhouses being a popular choice. In India, legal issues arise due to drug use, noise, safety and public order violations, leading to government measures and bans.