Already under fire from various quarters for prompting state agriculture minister Balasaheb Thorat to enter the tiger enclosure at Maharajbagh zoo here on Saturday, panicky agriculture college officials seemed to be in a fire-fighting mode on Tuesday. Thorat, who is also the Nagpur district guardian minister, drew flak from various quarters for entering the tiger enclosure and petting a tiger cub in violation of prescribe Zoo norms.
A group of officers, led by zoo in-charge Dr SS Bawaskar met senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh on Tuesday morning and tried to convince him that the minister’s act did not violate wildlife protection act norms. The officer also handed over a book to the senior Congress leader in this regard. This prompted Singh to announce here that the minister was innocent and contradicted the statement of the union minister of state for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh that Thorat violated the norms of wildlife protection act.
Citing a book on Wildlife Protection Act, Singh dismissed the criticism claiming that Thorat did nothing illegal. “Patting of an wild animal is neither molestation nor an act of teasing,” he further said.
The justification of the act by a senior Congress leader also sparked off anguish among the animal rights activists in the region.
Kishore Rithe, a tiger conservationlist and secretary of Satpuda Foundation, reiterated that the minister should be punished for breaking the wildlife protection rules. Moreover, the sycophant officials, who prompted the minister to enter the tiger enclosure, should be booked as co-accused in the case.
“They should also be suspended by the concerned authorities immediately,” he said and pointed out that the close contact between endangered species and humans is restricted by zoos worldwide to reduce the animals’ trauma and the risk of infection.
However, Thorat maintained that he neither teased the animal nor involve in disturbing the tiger cub. “I went into the enclosure to see for myself how the authorities were taking care of animals at the zoo,” he justified.
Dr MM Manke, the dean of the agriculture college that runs the zoo, made it clear that the minister did not do anything wrong by going inside the cage. “He was there to discuss with us about the development plan of the zoo. We have proposed a development plan of Rs. 3.5-crore for the zoo. While discussion about the subject, the minister wanted to see how the authorities were taking care of the animals at the zoo and that’s why he went to the enclosure of the tiger,” he defended. Dr Manke blamed the media for blowing up the issue out of proportion.
Meanwhile, the noted social worker of the city, Umesh Choube moved to the Nagpur bench of Bombay High court, seeking immediate action against the “guilty” zoo officials and others, who violated the wildlife protection act and central zoo rules and regulations by allowing the minister inside the cage.
The petition is likely to come up before a bench of the court on August 24 for hearing. While filing the petition, Choube pointed out that the section of 38 (J) of Wildlife Protection Act invites punishment if anyone tease or disturb any animal in a zoo. “Thorat’s act was nothing less than teasing and disturbing the animals in the zoo,” the petitioner further said.