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After blaze, circus debts surface

Mumbai, April 5: The main promoters and directors of the Russian State Circus Company, Rosgoscirk, are untraceable a day after 21 animals were charred to death in a fire inside a circus tent here.

Animal rights organisations have demanded action against the circus promoters under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and are preparing to approach Bombay High Court.

As police investigations into the fire began today, reports of how the circus owed huge amounts of money to suppliers and four hotels in Mumbai began to emerge.

The total sum is being pegged at about Rs 4.5 crore.

The circus, which toured Calcutta in November-December 2004 and then Indore before arriving in Mumbai, had reportedly run into losses. It reached here in February, but could not stage shows because animal welfare organisations obtained a stay on the grounds that it was treating animals cruelly and operating without the mandatory registration with the Animal Welfare Board of India.

The circus went to Bombay High Court and got the stay vacated on March 17. But when it eventually organised shows, they ran to empty houses because March is the month of examinations.

Chief promoter Deka Dibang Kumar, his brother-in-law Nirmalya, directors and the Russian crew of the circus stayed at the three-star King's International in Juhu from February and ran up a bill of over Rs 8 lakh.

'We managed to recover less than Rs 3 lakh, but cheques issued for Rs 5.5 lakh have bounced. The promoters are untraceable. We filed a complaint at Juhu police station for cheque-bouncing on March 16,' said Subodh Pandey, the hotel's manager.

King's International was one of the four hotels the circus organisers stayed at. The others were Tulip Star, Hotel Golden Manor and Hotel Four Seasons in Juhu.

'The circus is yet to pay Rs 1.3 lakh they owe us. They stayed with us for one month till March 20. The cheques they issued have bounced. We have informed the police,' said Naeem Seth, manager of Four Seasons.

Pandey claimed that the organisers were planning to sell off the circus. 'We were told that some financiers had shown interest in purchasing the circus,' he said. No circus official could be contacted to confirm this.

'The circus had not staged shows after March 27. We were told that the new party would revive the circus from April 8 and a contract between them was about to be signed. At least the animals would have been saved had the contract been signed,' Pandey said.

None of the organisers was seen on the Andheri ground when the fire broke out. Only the staff of the security agency they had hired were present.

The Bombay Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals performed a post-mortem on four sea lions, three eskimo dogs and one cat and cremated them at the Parel animal hospital today. Secretary J.C. Khanna said: 'We will submit the post-mortem report to the police.'

Deputy commissioner of police Amitabh Gupta refused to give details of investigations into the case. All he would say was: 'We will look at the case from all angles.'

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