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Chinkara case: Manhunt launched for ex-minister

August 20, 2008 16:23 IST

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A manhunt has been launched for former Maharashtra minister Dharmarao Baba Atram, wanted in a Chinkara poaching case, after he dodged a 100-strong team of forest department during an appearance in Pune court, which it rejected his anticipatory bail plea.

A team of forest officials was present at the Bombay high court on Wednesday apprehending that Atram, who was forced to resign over the allegation of killing the endangered animal, may move for bail.

"Atram faces between three to seven years in jail as per provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act," a senior forest department official told PTI.

The Nationalist Congress Party leader escaped from the Pune court premises on Tuesday shortly before the court rejected his bail plea though a 100-member team of forest officials was present there to arrest him.

The officials have now arrived in Mumbai and even searched his residence, but could not trace him.

However, the fact that Atram allegedly killed the chinkara in his party chief Sharad Pawar's [Images] home turf Baramati tehsil, has not gone well with NCP leadership which feels that it may damage the party's image, a senior leader said.

Atram had resigned from Cabinet in the wake of the accusations. According to eye-witness accounts, Atram's ministerial car with a red beacon on top had been sighted in Baramati-Purandar forest area on the night of June 14 when the chinkara, an endangered species, was killed.

"The forest officials have a watertight case against him, even stronger than the case against actor Salman Khan [Images] in the black buck poaching incident," the official said.

The strongest evidence in the case has come from Atram's bodyguard.

"The bodyguard has narrated how the minister got down from the car and shot dead the chinkara while associates beamed a bright torchlight on the animal, which stood still," the official claimed.

Forest Department sources, however, alleged that the former minister had been trying to use his political clout.

"Atram tried in vain to put up 'dummies' who would own up to the killing, but counter-complaints from some of his associates during the incident, who told the forest officials of his role in the killing, ensured he could not wriggle out of the case," the sources claimed.


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