MYSURU: An undergraduate student from Ballari accused of impersonating a forest department official from was on Tuesday taken into the custody of Mysuru police. The imposter, Harish D, 20, a native of Yethina Bhudhidal Post in Ballari, is a third-year BSc student, who allegedly created fake documents to substantiate his identity as a special officer of general administration in the .
Mysuru police said that Harish forged a letter that was purported to have been written by principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), Guntur in Andhra Pradesh Mohammad Illyas Rizvi to his counterpart in Karnataka. The letter stated that Harish, along with a team of Andhra Pradesh forest department officials would be visiting jungles in Karnataka and Goa as part of a study on eco-tourism.

Among the salient points in the letter was that, Andhra Pradesh was working on bolstering eco-tourism in the wake of the bifurcation, which resulted in the formation of Telangana. It went on to add that the team of three would visit the many tourist destinations in Karnataka, and were to be extended all the necessary facilities including food and boarding.

In order to make it seem more official, Harish had added an itinerary, besides demanding a separate officer, and a team that was fluent in Telugu to accompany them on their tour. In another letter, Harish demanded that the team be allowed to interact with rangers with extensive knowledge about eco-tourism.

Senior officials took letter at face value

Lulled into believing that these letters were genuine, Karnataka PCCF P Shridhar directed his juniors to make necessary arrangements for the team from Andhra Pradesh. Other senior officials in the forest department too intimated their juniors to accommodate the team in Ballari, Shivamogga, Nagarahole and Bandipur.

“Harish visited all these forests, and also interacted with range forest officers, and collected information about eco-tourism, without arousing any suspicion among the staff here,” police said.

However, Harish’s luck finally desterted him at Mysuru Zoo, where he arrived on July 9, and was scheduled to stay till August 14. The executive director of the zoo Ajith M Kulkarni said that staff at the Mysuru Zoo got suspicious about his identity. “It was when he asked the staff if an assistant conservator of forests (ACF) had two or three stars on the shoulder strap, and other such questions that made us doubt his claims of being a senior forest department official,” said staff at the zoo.

When Kulkarni ed his counterparts in Andhra Pradesh, they informed him that no officials had been sent to Karnataka for the purposes of a study. On being quizzed by the zoo authorities on Tuesday, Harish spilled the beans, and was subsequently handed over to the Nazarbad police station, where he is being interrogated about his background and motives.

On the other hand, the incident has raised several questions about security at reserve forests, and conservationists are demanding answers from the authorities concerned. “What would have happened had this imposter been a poacher? There must be a probe about the negligence on the part of forest officers,” said a conservationist.

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