Maharashtra Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar on Monday objected to party colleague and Union minister Maneka Gandhi’s criticism of the state government over the killing of tigress Avni. Mungantiwar said Gandhi “lacks information” about the matter and that she can order a high-level inquiry if she wants to, PTI reported.
The Maharashtra Forest Department on Friday killed the “man-eating tigress” in Yavatmal district. The six-year-old animal, called T1, a mother to two nine-month-old cubs, had allegedly claimed at least 13 lives in Ralegaon forest in Yavatmal since June 2016.
On Sunday, Gandhi tweeted that the shooting of Avni was “patently illegal” and a “ghastly murder” and criticised Mungantiwar for giving the orders to kill the animal. She also vowed to take up the matter with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. “I am definitely going to take up this case of utter lack of empathy for animals as a test case,” she said. “Legally, criminally as well as politically.”
Mungantiwar claimed that Gandhi’s comment “stems from her lack of information” about the matter and clarified that neither he nor any of the secretaries in his department have the right to order such killings. He said the decision is taken as per the guidelines of the National Tiger Conservation Authority.
“She [Gandhi] loves animals,” Mungantiwar said, according to PTI. “She is, however, minister for women and child development. I have to consider the women who have been killed by the tigress,” he said, adding that Gandhi can suggest changes in the NTCA guidelines if she deems fit.
The forest minister said orders to capture Avni were given when she killed five people. Mungantiwar said activists moved the Bombay High Court and obtained a stay, which resulted in the “man-eating” tigress killing more people.
“The Forest Department is not an enemy of the tigress,” Mungantiwar said. “She [Avni] was killed only after she attacked those trying to tranquilise her.”
Gandhi had also said Asgar Ali, the hunter who killed Avni, was not authorised to kill the animal. Mungantiwar said if Ali has criminal cases registered against him, then Gandhi, being a Union minister, can order his arrest. He also said that the Maharashtra forest department has nothing to do with the cases against Ali, if any.
“Instead of lodging a complaint with the chief minister, the Union minister, if she wants, can order a high-level inquiry by a sitting Supreme Court judge or a committee of sitting Supreme Court judges into the incident,” said Mungantiwar.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said his government will investigate if there were any lapses in the procedure to kill the animal. “It is sad for us too that a decision was taken to kill tigress Avni,” ANI quoted Fadnavis as saying. “We will still probe the issue to see if there were any lapses in the procedure followed. Manekaji’s words were harsh but we should understand her feelings as she is an animal lover.”
Fadnavis said according to preliminary reports he had received the tigress was shot in “self-defence” after she attacked the forest staff who were trying to tranquilise her, PTI reported. “We speak of increasing tiger population and conserving wildlife, and then unfortunately such a decision had to be taken,” he added.
The chief minister said the forest department had hired Asgar Ali. “The doubts raised regarding the killing will be verified,” he added.
Meanwhile, Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted against Avni’s killing. “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” he said, quoting Mahatma Gandhi.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s ally Shiv Sena too criticised the Maharashtra government, saying Yavatmal district, where the tigress was killed, has also seen a spate of farmer suicides. “We have not seen those responsible for the deaths [of farmers] get any punishment like the tigress was punished for killing people,” the Shiv Sena said in an editorial in party’s mouthpiece Saamana.
Avni’s cubs to be tranquilised, says official
The Maharashtra forest department said a search is under way to trace Avni’s cubs. “We cannot say the mission is complete because we have to take care of T1’s [Avni] cubs,” said Virendra Tiwari, chief conservator of forest (Mantralaya) of the forest department, according to Hindustan Times.
Tiwari said the cubs cannot be left in the wild. “But they are not to be shot, only tranquilised and this needs to be done at the earliest to ensure their good health.” The cubs will be kept in captivity.
Jerryl A Banait, who had approached the Supreme Court and the Bombay High Court regarding Avni’s capture, said the cubs are waiting for their mother to return and are currently starving. “If tranquillised, they will not be able to withstand the sedative effect and succumb to it.”
Activist Anand Siva alleged the forest department never intended to tranquilise Avni, though that was the order given by the Supreme Court. “We will take the government head on and expose the real reason why Avni was killed.”
Meanwhile, senior forest department officials dismissed claims that the forest land where Avni was killed was being given away for industrial development.