Golfer Jyoti Randhawa, arrested on poaching charges in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday, had “hinted” he was ready to pay a bribe to be let off, the forest official who claims to have intercepted him has alleged.
“Randhawaji was very polite but hinted at a certain settlement. I didn’t know that he was a celebrity but his hints angered me,” Satrohan Lal, deputy ranger, told The Telegraph over the phone from Katarniaghat Forest Sanctuary in Bahraich district, 200km north of Lucknow.
“I have been awarded the Anirudh Bhargava (Intach Environmental) Award thrice during my 17 years as a protector of forests. Such hints anger me.”
Lal said he was on a routine patrol in Motipur range of the Katarniaghat Sanctuary, which is part of the Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, when he saw an SUV and intercepted it.
“I was furious when I saw a .22-bore rifle in the car,” he said. “I asked the guards to seize the rifle because there have been instances of wildlife smugglers shooting forest employees dead. Then I seized his mobile phone.”
Lal, currently ranger-in-charge of Motipur, said he was still not sure whether the animal hide seized from the SUV was that of a sambar but argued that Randhawa’s possession of a deadly weapon and 60 live cartridges was proof that he was a poacher. Two dead fowls were also seized from the SUV, officials have said.
Randhawa and friend Mahesh Virajdar, a former navy captain, were arrested while returning to the golfer’s farmhouse in village Kharia, 2.5km from the spot. They have been remanded in 14 days’ judicial custody.
With details of their activities in the forest still unclear, officials have brought a host of charges against them under the Indian Forest Act and the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act.
G.P. Singh, divisional forest officer, had on Wednesday morning merely said that Randhawa was “hunting for” jungle fowls but later told reporters that the golfer and Virajdar had “killed” two jungle fowls.
Ramesh Kumar Pandey, field director of Dudhwa Tiger Reserve, had first said that “an old hide of a wild boar” was seized from the SUV but later clarified: “We have found that it was the hide of a sambar, killed 10 to 12 days ago.”
A forest department official in Lucknow, speaking on the condition of anonymity on Thursday, added an intriguing element by saying the jungle fowls recovered from the SUV had not been killed by a .22-bore rifle but by an airgun.
“We are sending the animal hide and the dead fowls to the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun, for confirmation,” he said.
Killing a wild boar or a jungle fowl is as much a crime as killing a sambar, and buying or selling their hide or flesh is prohibited too. Katarniaghat, however, has no wild boars.
Randhawa and Virajdar face charges of committing prohibited acts in a forest, possessing properties liable for confiscation, violating entry restrictions and causing destruction in a wildlife sanctuary, entering a sanctuary with a weapon, using banned and injurious substances, dealing in animal trophies and animal articles without licence, and the unauthorised purchase of captive animals.
“They can be jailed for up to six years if convicted,” Lal said.
Randhawa’s father Ranjeet Singh Randhawa, a retired army brigadier, had a decade ago bought the 95-acre farmhouse where the golfer and Virajdar were staying.
The Katarniaghat Sanctuary sprawls 450sqkm and runs along the Nepal border for about 100km.