The Tripura government has allegedly suspended the state’s principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife and ecotourism), Prabin Lal Agrawal, amid a row surrounding the naming of lions Akbar and Sita, The Times of India reported on Monday.

“Akbar” was the name of the third Mughal emperor who reigned from 1556 to 1605 while “Sita” is a Hindu deity from the epic Ramayan.

On February 13, West Bengal forest officials brought the seven-year-old lion Akbar and five-year-old lioness Sita to Bengal Safari Park in Siliguri from Sepahijala Zoological Park in Tripura, reported The Statesman.

Following this, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad claimed that housing Sita with Akbar would be an insult to the Hindu religion.

The Tripura government had asked for clarification from Agarwal, a 1994-batch Indian Forest Service officer, regarding the names. The officer, who was serving as Tripura's chief wildlife warden when the animals were sent to West Bengal, had denied naming the animals.

However, it was later found that the names were given by Tripura wildlife officials when the animals were being sent to West Bengal, leading to Agarwal’s suspension.

VHP’s petition

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s West Bengal wing had moved the Jalpaiguri circuit bench of the Calcutta High Court against the forest department allegedly keeping Akbar and Sita in the same enclosure at the safari park.

“Vishwa Hindu Parishad has with deep anguish observed that a species of cat family has been named after the name of ‘Sita’ the consort of Lord Rama and she is sacred deity to all Hindus across the world,” read the Hindu outfit’s plea.

Claiming that the act “amounts to blasphemy”, it had sought the name of the lioness to be changed.

In response to the outfit’s petition, the Calcutta High Court on Thursday orally suggested to the West Bengal government that lioness Sita could be renamed.

A single bench of Justice Saugata Bhattacharyya said that Sita is worshipped by a majority of citizens of India and Akbar was an efficient, successful and secular Mughal emperor, reported Bar and Bench.

“Mr Counsel, will you yourself name your own pet after some Hindu god or Muslim prophet,” Justice Bhattacharyya asked Additional Advocate-General Debjyoti Choudhary, who was appearing for West Bengal. “I think, if anyone of us would have been the authority, none of us would have named them as Akbar and Sita. Can anyone of us think of naming an animal after Rabindranath Tagore?”

Choudhary clarified at the beginning of the hearing that the names were given by the Tripura zoo authorities, and not West Bengal. He said that the controversy around the name erupted only after the animals were transported to West Bengal.

“We are not talking about the name of the pet animals of an officer of the zoo department,” the court responded. “But you are a welfare and a secular state, why should you draw a controversy by naming a lion after Sita and Akbar?”

Further, Justice Bhattacharyya said that West Bengal is already mired in several controversies and a row around the names of the animals could have been avoided.

The additional advocate-general then told the court that he would ensure the lions are given new names and urged Justice Bhattaacharyya to dismiss the petition.

The court said that as the matter deals with the religious sentiments of a large group of people, the plea would have to be reclassified as a public interest litigation.

It directed that the matter be placed before the regular bench having determination over public interest litigations.