Tuesday, April 1, 2008

‘Wild’ side of UT’s super rich Aditi TandonTribune News Service
Chandigarh, March 31If you thought Chandigarh was all about greens, here’s a peek into its “wild, red” side. UT, with its massive wildlife wealth, possessed by the high and mighty, can put any state in India to shame. It did in 2003 when its residents made a beeline for disclosure of wildlife articles under a government of India’s amnesty scheme. The scheme gave owners of wildlife articles a chance to register and legally possess these.
As against 509 applications received from Punjab, Chandigarh alone furnished a whopping 596 applications, reflecting its fascination for wildlife and opulence. Around 331 of these applications came after the deadline of 180 days ended on October 14, 2003. The amnesty had been notified on April 18, 2003.
The most striking detail about disclosures from Chandigarh relates to its massive shahtoosh wealth, and the fact that 80 per cent of the disclosed articles are of Schedule I animals like tiger, lion and elephants, protected by law. Applicants from Chandigarh declared to be in possession of 740 shahtoosh shawls.
Considering one shahtoosh shawl requires wool from about eight chiru deer, close to 6,000 chirus must have died to bestow this treasure upon Chandigarh. Chiru is nearly extinct, and on Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act.
For the first time since 2003, disclosures made by Chandigarh’s super-rich are in public domain, thanks to the RTI Act. Among applicants in possession of expensive wildlife articles are big names of Venod Sharma, Congress politician; Babli Brar, daughter of former Punjab Chief Minister Harcharan Brar; Hira Lal Sibal, noted advocate and father of union minister for science and technology Kapil Sibal; Usha Khaitan of Amrit Vanaspati family, Jagwati Gupta of the Jagat cinema group; R.K. Saboo, past president, Rotary International; and the famous lawyer family from Chandigarh, the Atmarams.
Also on the list is the family of former Chief Justice of India M.M. Punchhi, sitting Supreme Court judge Ashok Bhan and former Kerala High Court Chief Justice Jawahar Lal Gupta. The families of Mr Justice Bhan and Justice Gupta declared six and eight shahtoosh shawls, respectively.
Another name on the list that rings a bell is of S.S. Pandher, father of Nithari killings accused Moninder Singh Pandher, who has a house in Sector 27. The largest disclosure from Chandigarh came from Jagwati Gupta of the Jagat cinema group, who furnished 55 applications.
Maximum 31 shahtoosh shawls in the individual category have been declared by Supriya Modi of the Modi family that owns Chandigarh Distilleries and Oil Bottling Ltd. She’s followed by Babli Brar, who owns 26 such shawls. Together, Babli and her mother Gurbinder Brar own 41 shahtoosh shawls. They are still no match for the Modis who together declared 45 shahtoosh shawls. Interesting to see is the name of retired Haryana IAS officer Veena Eagleton, on the list.
Congressman Venod Sharma’s family submitted 27 applications. No declaration was made by Venod’s son Manu Sharma. Following the Sharmas is Hiralal Sibal and family, followed by the Saboos.
Benefits of the amnesty scheme actually went to the affluent, and not to the less educated and aware ones, who, the government thought needed to be given a chance to declare wildlife articles. In the list from Chandigarh, there are only two “madaris”, who have declared two live monkeys each.

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