CHANDIGARH : A war of words has broken out between Maneka Gandhi, the Union minister for women and child development, and Santosh Kumar, the chief conservator of forests of Chandigarh, over Australian ducks that went missing after being rescued from smugglers.
The minister has complained about the Indian Forest Service officer to Punjab governor and Chandigarh administrator, V P Singh Badnore.
Sources said the minister and the forest officer engaged in a heated verbal spat on the telephone over the fate of some 15 ducks that had been caught by People For Animals (PFA) and the Chandigarh police on September 16 while they were allegedly being smuggled.
The ducks belong to an Australian species that is said to sell for 1 lakh each in the illegal market.
The rescued ducks were handed over to the Chandigarh Wildlife Department by the People For Animals president, Chetan Sharma.
“It is alleged that the 15 ducks handed over to the wildlife department went missing subsequently. People For Animals reportedly brought this matter to the notice of Maneka Gandhi who then called up Santosh Kumar and demanded an explanation from him. This triggered an argument,’’ said an officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity. Sources said PFA then submitted a written complaint to the Punjab governor and Chandigarh administrator V P Singh Badnore against Santosh Kumar and Maneka Gandhi reportedly called up Badnore complaining about the officer.
Badnore initiated an inquiry into the matter and asked for a detailed report.
Officer Santosh Kumar has sent a detailed report to Badnore stating that the ducks have not gone missing. Along with the report, he sent a CD attached showing the said ducks happily quacking about.
But the PFA alleged that the ducks shown in the CD are not the ones rescued.
Highly placed sources said the inquiry officer in the case, the Punjab governor’s secretary M P Singh, has recorded the statements of 11 wildlife employees in which they reportedly stated that indeed procedural lapses were committed by Santosh Kumar.
Despite repeated attempts, Santosh Kumar was not available for comment. But sources close to him said he had not misbehaved with the union minister and that the ducks in question are alive and well.