Mumbai: Supreme Court lawyer cheats couple for Rs 5.50 lakh on pretext of saving tigress 'Avni'

Updated: Jan 11, 2019, 21:35 IST | Anurag Kamble |

After reports of Avni's alleged attack on villagers surfaced in August 2018, forest department decided to kill Avni. Earth Brigade Foundation again moved to Nagpur bench

An NGO run by a couple has been cheated by a lady for the tune of Rs 5.50 lakh on the pretext of helping in saving the tigress 'Avni'. Trombay cops have booked Poonam Khanna for cheating and who also reportedly claimed to be an Advocate. Khanna had told the NGO that she can help them file a petition in the Supreme Court to stop Forest department from killing Avni. Trombay cops have summoned Khanna for investigation, whereas Khanna refuted all the claims saying the matter which was going to settle amicably has gone to the police.
Dr. PV Subramniyam and Dr. Sarita Subramniyam have formed an NGO named 'Earth Brigade Foundation' which works for wild animals, sterilisation of Dogs and distribution of sanitary pads for tribal women in Maharashtra. In October 2017, the foundation read about Tigress Avni and her attacks on villagers of Pandharkavda.
"We learnt that the forest department has initiated a process to kill Avni, terming her as a man-eater. We were shocked and decided that we had to do something against this decision (sic)" said Dr. Sarita Subramniyam.
"We wrote to the Forest Department and also to 'National Tiger Conservation Authority' (NTCA) to stop this action. When we didn't receive any response from authorities, we filed Public Interest litigation (PIL) in Nagpur bench of High Court in January 2018. The court granted the decision in our favour and told the Forest Department not to kill Avni in February 2018," added Dr. Subramniyam.
After reports of Avni's alleged attack on villagers surfaced in August 2018, forest department decided to kill Avni. Earth Brigade Foundation again moved to Nagpur bench but this time, the bench turned down their plea. Foundation rushed to Supreme Court to get relief. "Meanwhile, we were meeting ministers, lawyers, activists who can guide us to stop killing of Avni. That's when we got in touch with Advocate Poonam Khanna" says Dr. Subramniyam. "She told us that, she is a Supreme Court lawyer and will help us to fight this battle. We went to Nagpur together to meet lawyers who can help us in filling review petition, she came over to our home on October 21, 2018 and collected all information about our movement" added Dr. Sarita.
According to a statement registered by Dr. PV Subramniyam, "Khanna came over and said that she can help us in getting foreign funds to fight this battle. We told her that our foundation doesn't have permission to accept funds.  She replied saying that she knew the process and she can do this for us." By this time, the petition filed by the Foundation was rejected by the Court. "Khanna told us we can move this matter to the Supreme Court and asked for Rs 1.50 lakh to get permission for accepting foreign funds. We paid the money on October 24, 2018 to her driver which was acknowledged by Khanna saying that she received the money," added Dr. PV Subramniyam.
Meanwhile, the Forest department escalated the operation to kill Avni. Desperate Subramniyam duo kept on asking Khanna when is she going to file the petition in Supreme Court. "Khanna told us that the advocate who she approached asked for Rs 10 lakh as a fee. We told her that our foundation can't afford it, to which she replied that the foundation needs to pay only Rs 5 lakh and the rest she would pay by herself. We transferred Rs 3 lakh on November 2, 2018, and on the same day Avni was killed" says Dr. Sarita.
"When we informed Khanna about this, she said that we can still approach the Supreme Court to save her cubs and demanded 1 lakh rupees further, which we paid her," added Dr. Sarita.
After the money transfer Adv. Khanna allegedly started avoiding the Foundation. She said that she is working on getting more information on this killing and needs a letter from the foundation that she is a legal advisor. The foundation gave Khanna the letter which said that she is the legal advisor of the NGO. But when Subramniyam got suspicious about her, they got in touch with a lawyer who fought their case. The advocate refused of having any contact with Khanna and said that they must have been misinformed. "Suspicion grew on Khanna when we demanded money back and she said that she will pay the amount by cheque and refused any online transfers. She also asked us to deposit the cheque only after she tells us to," said Dr. Sarita.
On 26th November, the foundation informed Khanna via mail that they are removing her from the post of legal advisor and if she fails to return the money, legal action will be taken. When Khanna didn't respond, an application was given to Trombay Police station. Preliminary inquiry found substance in the complaint and filed an FIR again Poonam Khanna under IPC 420 (cheating).
"We have filed an FIR and have called Poonam Khanna to register her statement," said Prakash Salvi, Senior Inspector of Trombay Police station. "Though Khanna claims of handing over a cheque to the foundation, she never allowed them to deposit it nor returned the money" he added. 
When Mid-day contacted Poonam Khanna she claimed, "We were going to settle the matter amicably, but the Foundation didn't inform me of this legal action. Nor Trombay cops informed me about an FIR and I have not cheated anyone."

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