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<i>Lagaan</i> chinkara death investigated

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Monday, July 10, 2006 

Bhuj (UNI): After Salman Khan's conviction in a poaching case, filmstar Aamir Khan, who had used a chinkara while shooting his Oscar-nominated film Lagaan, may soon face charges of cruelty to the rare deer. Confirming this, Conservator of Forests for Kutch region R L Meena said Aamir had requested the Deputy Forest Conservator (DFC) for a chinkara which was to be used in a scene of his film. ''Though the DFC informed the Conservator, permission to give him the deer was not sought from Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, who is only authorised to give such permits,'' he told UNI. He said he would consult the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state in the matter and seek his permission to conduct an inquiry against the officials concerned and Aamir.

Aamir had shot major parts of the film in Kutch region, especially in Banni area or near Mandvi coast. The chinkara was required for a scene shot in Kunaria village of Bhuj tehsil, in which an English official shoots at the animal and Aamir, in the role of a villager, saves it and helps it escape into the forest. DFC S T Chaturvedi had told the Conservator that one chinkara, seized from a person in Khavda village, was available with the Department, which could be given for the film shooting. Mr Meena said that keeping a chinkara in custody is illegal and even the then Principal Chief Conservator of Forests G A Patel had asked for an explanation as to why the deer had not been let out in the forest.

Under the Forest laws, the department is under obligation not to hold such captured animals in captivity but to release them into the forest. But the matter had not been pursued as Mr Patel superannuated soon after. It was learnt that at that time there were three chinkaras in the custody of the Forest department, of whom two died and one was released. The chinkara used for the film died few weeks later. While the post mortem of one chinkara was conducted, it was not done in case of the deer which was used for the film shooting.

''If we get evidence, we would lodge a complaint against the officials and the film actor too,'' Mr Meena said. Chinkara is a scheduled animal under the Wildlife Protection Act. ''It is a rare deer - even teasing or chasing it is an offence, punishable under the Act. Imprisonment could be upto three years,'' he added. Some locals had complained to Mr Meena regarding the matter.

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