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Chinkara case: Aamir demands evidence
Haresh Pandya in Rajkot | September 05, 2006 11:57 IST
"We had issued a notice to Aamir Khan last month for violating the Wildife Protection Act 1972. We had given him a week's time to reply. He has sent us a letter through his lawyer Anand Desai and demanded documentary proof in support of our notice," R L Meena, conservator of forests, Kutch circle, told this correspondent.
"We had given all the details in our notice as to how a chinkara was illegally used in Lagaan without the forest department's permission," Meena said. "Aamir Khan seems to want to prolong the issue deliberately. It is okay. He has a right to make his defence stronger. We wouldn't have slapped him a notice if we hadn't been armed with documentary evidence. We've consulted the government advocate and sought his guidance. We'll soon decide a further course of action. A long legal battle appears to be on the cards."
Aamir Khan Production Private Limited, which made Lagaan, had been served a notice for the alleged illegal use of the chinkara. The Lagaan unit camped in Bhuj from January to June 2000. Most of the film's shoot took place in Kunaria, the Banni forest area and around the Mandvi coast.
The forest authorities acted following a complaint lodged by the Gir Nature Youth Club.
GNYC President Amit Jethwa complained to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and the state forest department and demanded action against the makers of Lagaan and about half-a-dozen forest officials, who allegedly arranged for a chinkara deer.
Forest guard Amrutlal Modi reportedly confirmed that a chinkara was taken to the sets of Lagaan and a scene was picturised on the deer.
In the scene shot in Kunaria village, 25 km from Bhuj, an English official is shown firing at the animal. Aamir, as the villager Bhuvan, saves the animal and helps it escape into the forest.
Aamir's first wife Reena Dutta, who produced Lagaan, had requested S T Chaturvedi, then the deputy conservator of forests, Kutch circle, on September 16, 1999, for a chinkara. But the permission was not granted.
The Kutch forest department had three chinkaras in its custody at that time. One of the chinkaras was seized from a man in Khavda village near the Pakistan border. It is alleged that this chinkara was used in Lagaan. The animal died a few days later. No postmortem was conducted.
Under India's wildlife laws, keeping a chinkara in custody is illegal. Yet Kutch forest officials had as many as three chinkaras in their custody. They now face action on this front. A chinkara is a scheduled animal under the Wildlife Protection Act 1972. Inflicting cruelty on it, teasing, even chasing it, is considered an offence, punishable under the law.
If Aamir is proven guilty of the offence registered against him by the Gujarat forest department, he confronts at least three years in prison.
After the Gir Nature Youth Club complained in June the state government also instructed the forest department to reopen the long-buried case against actor Salman Khan.
The Bollywood superstar allegedly hunted down two chinkaras in the Banni forest during the shooting of Sanjay Leela Bhanshali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam in 1998.
The Gujarat government's action against Aamir Khan came in the wake of the Fanaa controversy, where the star's film was not screened in Gujarat in protest against his remarks on the Narmada dam rehabilitation issue.