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Tough wildlife warden shifted
Shahtoosh lobby’s will prevails
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, January 1
The Chief Wildlife Warden, Mr Swarn Singh, who had refused to bow to the dictates of certain influential possessors of shahtoosh shawls in the state, has been transferred to an insignificant post in the Punjab Forest Department. He was transferred a day before the enforcement of the code of conduct on December 29 with regard to the Punjab Assembly elections.

Mr Swarn Singh, who was posted as the Chief Wildlife Warden only a few months ago, has assumed charge of his new post.

Sources said that Mr Swarn Singh had been removed from the post of Chief Wildlife Warden at the behest of certain possessors of shahtoosh shawls because they were feeling uncomfortable owing to the tough stand taken by him with regard to the issuance of the certificate of ownership to them. As many as 150 keepers of such shawls had applied for the certificate of ownership.The possession of such shawls without the certificate is illegal.

The ownership certificate makes just one legal possessor or custodian of the shawl but does not give one the right to sell it. The shawl remains government property and if one goes to another state with the shawl(s), one has to inform the wildlife authorities regarding its possession.

Among the possessors of such shawls are families of influential politicians, bureaucrats, police officers, industrialists and “feudal lords”. In fact, as the price of one such shawl ranges from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 5 lakh, middle class families cannot afford to buy it.

Shahtoosh shawls are made from wool derived from the undercoat of the chiru, a Tibetan antelope that has been declared an endangered species in various parts of the world. The animal has to be killed to obtain the wool.

The Union Government had issued a notification giving an opportunity to the possessors of wildlife articles such as trophies, shahtoosh shawls and ivory jewellery to declare these within a specified period to avail themselves of the certificate of ownership from the Chief Wildlife Wardens in the respective states.

About 600 persons in Punjab had declared that they had shahtoosh shawls and 450 of them were issued the certificate of ownership by the authorities without completing the procedural formalities.

However, Mr Swarn Singh as the Chief Wildlife Warden had instructed his DFOs to make a detailed inquiry from the remaining possessors of such shawls regarding the source of the shawls, the weight, colour,etc. The sources said that following such queries, some of the possessors started saying that their shawls were not of shahtoosh. Mr Swarn Singh directed his officials to ask such possessors to deposit their shawls for scientific testing.

As Mr Swarn Singh refused to oblige anyone and remained firm on following the provisions of the Wildlife Act, he was removed from the post held by him. In the past few months, Mr Swarn Singh had also made life miserable for poachers and got cases registered against many of them.

Asked to comment on his transfer, Mr Swarn Singh said:“I have been doing my duty honestly all my life and upholding the law. Some people like it and some don’t. But I remain happy in all situations.” 

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