Bengaluru, Oct 27 (PTI) The Karnataka Forest Department on Friday suspended the Deputy Range Forest Officer (DRFO) of Kalasa in Chikkamagaluru district and arrested him for allegedly possessing a tiger claw pendant, officials said.
The action was taken following an official complaint lodged by activists Supreeth and Abdul Khader against Darshan Kumar, the DRFO, after a purported photo of him wearing a tiger claw pendant surfaced on social media platforms. Later, he deleted those photos.
"A case has been registered against him (DRFO) and it is being investigated. He has been suspended and taken into custody and interrogation is going on. Whatever comes out in the probe will be submitted to the court," a senior forest official told PTI.
State Environment and Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre said a forest official wearing a tiger claw pendant is an "unpardonable offence" and strict action will be taken.
Meanwhile, a team of senior forest officials visited the house of Karnataka Minister for Women and Child Development Laxshmi Hebbalkar after images of her son - Mrinal Hebbalkar allegedly wearing a tiger claw pendant went viral on social media platforms.
The team seized the pendant which will be sent for forensic examination to verify if it’s a genuine one, officials said.
Later, Hebbalkar clarified to the media that the alleged tiger claw pendant worn by her son was actually made of plastic.
"Officials had come…It is actually plastic. It was gifted to him (her son) during his wedding. Earlier, also when he was young, he had one which was made of plastic brought from Khanapur.
"Where are you going to get the real one these days?... Officials will, anyway, investigate it…I am holding a responsible position. Law is equal for everyone..Let’s all work towards protecting the lives of our national animal," she told reporters here in Belagavi.
As part of the ongoing probe, two priests in Khandya village of Mysuru were arrested for allegedly possessing tiger claw pendants, the forest official said.
"One of the priests of a temple in Khandya village was nabbed with a tiger claw pendant. Based on his disclosure, we arrested another priest who was also found to be in possession of a pendant with a tiger claw. When interrogated, he admitted it to our officials. The two were taken into custody and produced before the magistrate. However, they were granted bail," he said.
Both the tiger claw pendants have been seized from them, he added.
Meanwhile, Varthur Santosh, a contestant of Bigg Boss Kannada reality show who was arrested from the sets of the show on Sunday for allegedly wearing a tiger claw pendant and was subsequently sent to 14 days judicial custody was on Friday granted bail by a court here, according to the forest department.
Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre said that the government is planning to give two months' time to those in possession of such wildlife articles to return them to the forest department.
"Earlier in 2003, the government had provided an opportunity for 180 days, six months, for those keeping or using such things traditionally or keeping them as trophies, to declare. In the same way, there are plans to give them two months' time to return. The plan is to implement it strictly after spreading awareness about the law. The government will take the final decision after discussing with legal experts," he said.
In the wake of many complaints of people having wildlife artefacts, the forest department on the direction of the Forest Minister formed a special task force (STF) to look into them as well as the status of past cases relating to them.
Khandre had said the law of the land is applicable to all without any discrimination and the government will act as per the law.
The STF would also suggest measures to create public awareness and would submit a comprehensive report on the steps to be taken to prevent the sale of products and items made from any part of wild animals, including tiger claws and its teeth.
Khandre has directed the STF to submit a report within a week about the cases (complaints) registered since the Wildlife Protection Act came into force, the action taken under the law and the steps to be taken in the cases currently registered and being registered. PTI AMP KH