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Have a shahtoosh shawl' Get legal
- Six months given to illegal owners of wildlife trophies to register possessions, defaulters face jail term and fine

Calcutta, May 11: Remember the exquisite white shawl Amitabh Bachchan wore in one of those Kaun Banega Crorepati episodes' The one that looked suspiciously like a shahtoosh'

Well, if it truly was a shahtoosh, this may be the last chance for the owner to get on the right side of law.

The Union ministry of environment and forests has given people owning banned wildlife trophies — tiger skins, antlers or shawls spun from the down of the endangered Tibetan antelope — six months to declare their possessions and get them legally registered.

In a move much awaited by wildlife protection groups lobbying for a stop to illegal trade in animal products, the Centre last month announced the “Declaration of Wild Life Stock Rules, 2003” which will enable individuals to obtain a certificate for owning wild animals or wildlife products.

If the declarations are not made within six months, defaulters could be jailed for three to seven years and fined Rs 10,000 or whatever the judge deems fit.

Trade in products of animals protected under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act has long been illegal but has not stopped those who can afford it from craving or acquiring one. Shahtoosh shawls made from the fluff of the chiru that is massacred by poachers in Tibet and China are on the prohibited list.

The fresh notification comes after a two-year campaign by the Wildlife Trust of India and the International Fund for Animal Welfare against the manufacture and sale of shahtoosh. The shawls cost Rs 1-3 lakh depending on the embroidery. The two organisations have also been demanding that those who have unknowingly bought the shawls be given a chance to legalise them. “This is the right step forward by the government,” says Ashok Kumar, senior adviser and trustee of the wildlife trust.

“We have been lobbying with the government for long to move this forward as this is the only way a lot of people who had unknowingly bought a shahtoosh shawl in the past can redeem themselves. However, this may also legalise some illegal shawls, but be that as it may, the line has finally been drawn. After this, no one can claim that they did not know,” he adds.

Though the law to declare ownership of wildlife products has been in force for some time, very few people have come clean.

Wildlife aficionados say things are different with the royal families of the past who went on shikar. Most of the trophies displayed in Rajasthan palaces that have been turned into hotels are registered.

With the declaration scheme being inadequately publicised earlier, the government has this time decided to entrust chief wildlife wardens in states and Union Territories to spread the information in local languages. The chief wildlife warden will either accept the declaration himself or designate an official for the job.

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