Renowned international golfer Jyoti Randhawa, who recently deployed his sniffer dogs to track a man-eater tigress in Maharashtra, was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh forest department on charges of poaching inside the Dudhwa tiger reserve Wednesday. Officials said Randhawa was caught along with skydiver Mahesh Birajdar, a former Indian Navy officer from Maharashtra who was court-martialled for embezzlement of funds during the 2008 World Parachuting Championship in Paris, inside the restricted area.
A .22 caliber rifle mounted with a range-finder, binoculars, a dead jungle fowl and a sambar deer hide were recovered from Randhawa’s SUV bearing a Haryana numberplate, officials said. Sambar deer and jungle fowl are protected under schedules III and IV of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, which stipulates 3-7 years imprisonment with a fine of Rs 50,000-2,00,000 for hunting inside a tiger reserve.
The vehicle was intercepted at 5.30 am at Beat No.29 in the Motipur range of the Katarniaghat wildlife sanctuary that is part of the Dudhwa reserve, they said. The rifle was registered in the name of Randhawa, who initially claimed the animal hide recovered was that of a boar that had entered their farmhouse, officials said.
Randhawa and Birajdar were produced before the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Bahraich, and remanded in judicial custody for 14 days. “The field staff found their movements over the last three days suspicious and kept an eye on them. Today, their vehicle entered the tiger reserve early in the morning and our staff gave chase. Randhawa has an ancestral farm in the Motipur area and he probably did not expect anyone to notice his entry so early on a foggy winter morning,” Ramesh Pandey, field director, Dudhwa tiger reserve, told The Indian Express.
“Forest officials found a freshly killed jungle-fowl and the hide of a Sambar deer, which appeared to have been killed around 2-3 days ago, inside the vehicle,” said Pandey.
The farm, in Nahina village, was set up by Randhawa’s father Brigadier (retd) R S Randhawa in the early 1970s in Bahraich’s Nanpara, close to Katarniaghat’s Motipur range. Now a resident of Gurgaon, Randhawa grew up on the farm and has been a regular visitor during the golfing off-season.
Earlier, in the second week of October, Randhawa had led the charge in tracking tigress T1 with his dog squad in Yavatmal. “Being from an Army background, I feel that it is the duty of every citizen to contribute as per their domain expertise,” he had said at the time.
A self-proclaimed “animal lover” and dog trainer, Randhawa had claimed that his two Italian Cane Corso dogs — Buster and Carlos — could help find the location of the elusive tigress. The dogs, however, failed to pick her scent and the man-eater was eventually gunned down by a private hunter close to midnight on November 2 under controversial circumstances.
An avid adventure lover, Randhawa has previously flaunted his love for target shooting, visiting jungles, and scuba and sky diving. Recently, he started participating in shooting competitions. A professional golfer since 1994, Randhawa was ranked in the top 100 of the Official World Golf Ranking list on numerous occasions between 2004 and 2009. Between 2001 and 2014, he was married to actor Chitrangada Singh.