Sunday, June 30, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Wildlife officials raid illegal zoo 
Jupinderjit Singh
Tribune News Service

Mehtiana Sahib (Ludhiana), June 29
After facing stiff resistance from managers of the alleged illegal zoo near Gurdwara Mehtiana Sahib, a joint raiding team of the state Wildlife and Forest Departments managed to break into the zoo premises today and found about 45 animals and birds kept illegally.

The raid confirmed the reports that the managers, owing allegiance to the controversial management of Gurdwara Mehtiana Sahib, famous for exhibiting statues of Sikh heroes and significant scenes of Sikh history, were running an illegal zoo for the past several years.

District Forest Officer Jarnail Singh told The Tribune that the raiding team had prepared an inventory of animals and would lodge a criminal complaint against the managers. The animals would then be shifted to wildlife sanctuaries or zoos in the state or elsewhere. The Tribune team was a witness to the over four hour operation. Most of the time the raiding party was handling the resistance put up by the managers. It was only after the mediation of Jagraon police officials that the gurdwara management agreed to show the animals.

Mr Makhan Singh, SHO, Hathur police station, however, refused to accompany the raiding team, saying that it was a religious party and written orders were required for active police intervention.

The total number of animals and birds was over 100 and 45 of these, including sambhar, black buck and neel gai, are prohibited for private-keeping or exhibition under the Wildlife Act.

The team led by Range Officer Harsant Singh and about a dozen other employees reached the zoo at about 11.30 a.m. The teamís entry was blocked at the entrance gate by sewadars of the zoo.

Earlier, a man would take entry fee from visitors. The management of the gurdwara also refused to cooperate, saying that the head of the place, Baba Zora Singh, was out of station and only he would talk to them.

Ultimately the team contacted senior forest and wildlife officers, who in turn contacted Mr M.S. Cheena, SSP, Jagraon. Mr Cheena sent a police party that managed to mediate. Mr Surjit Singh, brother of Baba Zora Singh, took the team around the zoo.

The team said the animals might be healthy but this was against the law and anybody indulging in such activities could be imprisoned for three to six years.

Mr Jarnail Singh said a massive operation was required to get the animals released as it was a sensitive matter. He said the matter was more sensitive than the Dhakki Sahib controversy as the number of animals was quite high. The Wildlife Department had got released a large number of animals from Dhakki Sahib in Maqsoodan a couple of years ago.

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