JAIPUR: A day after an angry mob set a leopard afire after it was suspected of killing a man and feeding on his body, it emerged that administration could have averted the incident, had they taken immediate action.
Ironically, the incident comes 10 days after chief minister Vasundhara Raje, while presenting the budget for 2017-18 in the assembly, announced that Rajasthan will become the first state in the country to launch Project Leopard to conserve the apex predator. The spotted big cat was chased and burned to death by the villagers near Sariska Tiger Reserve, notwithstanding the fact that the forest officials have already tranquilised it with darts.
According to the latest wildlife census (2015), there are 434 leopards in Rajasthan. Around 20 felines were killed between 2014 and 2016 in accidents and human attacks but none so brutally as the one in Madhogarh on Saturday afternoon.
The incident becomes a big blot on the ambitious Project Leopard but not because of people’s anger but because of administrative lapses.
On the basis of what HT gathered from the ground, there have been four major administrative lapses which resulted in the leopard’s killing.
The first was the police failure to remove the body of 30-year-old man allegedly killed by the leopard on Friday evening from the site. Experts say the first step towards preventing a law and order flare-up is to remove the cause. According to information, the station house officer (SHO) of the nearest police station reached the spot around 7am but for two hours, when there were fewer than 20 people, he did not take the body away.
“The police should have removed the body as soon as possible,” said a former police officer. “The sight of the mutilated body must have fuelled people’s anger leading to the casualty,” he added.
Secondly, before tranquilizing the animal, police should have sanitised the area to enable the forest team work at ease. The forest team took 45 minutes to reach the spot after the animal was tranquilized, giving villagers enough time to regroup and overpower the police and the forest teams.
The third lapse was administration’s sympathetic attitude towards the mob even after the worst had happened. “When they set the leopard afire, there was no reason for the officers to go soft on the mob,” said a forest officer, who served at Sariska a few years ago. “Police should have used force to disperse the villagers, the damage was already done, there was no need to be lenient towards them,” he added.
And lastly, even after several police officers were injured by stone attack by villagers, Alwar’s district collector and superintendent of police did not bother to visit the spot. “Presence of top officers of the district makes managing law and order problem a lot easier. Such a crime has never been reported in Rajasthan. I don’t know what prevented the DC and the SP from visiting the spot,” wonders a former DGP.
But all is not lost yet. The administration needs to send out a strong message against such incidents. Action should be initiated against the guilty villagers and politicians should stay out of this. Madhogarh has Gujjar majority and police fear that politicians in the district who belong to the community may try to shield them.
The incident gives the administration an opportunity to set things right once and for all by not buckling under pressure.
Police case lodged
The forest department cremated the leopard after its autopsy on Saturday evening. Chief Wildlife Warden GL Reddy visited Alwar to take stock of the situation. Later, the department lodged a police case under sections 332 (Voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty) 353 (Assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty) and 120B (criminal conspiracy) at Malakheda police station against unknown people. On Saturday, another case under section 9/51 of the Wildlife Act was also lodged by the forest department.