Is Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, known as the ultimate macho man of world politics, a role model for Maharashtra’s Agriculture Minister, Balasaheb Thorat?
On his 56th birthday last year, Putin got a tiger cub as a present. He wasted no time in organising a photo shoot: as the shutters clicked, he stroked a cub.
Thorat, with cellphone in one hand, stroked a cub with the other at Nagpur’s Maharajbagh Zoo on Saturday. The photographers were there too.
On Tuesday, the Delhi-based Central Zoo Authority (CZA) sent a show-cause notice to the zoo administration, asking why the minister was allowed inside the cage.
The action violates Section 38J of the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972, which states that no person shall tease or cause disturbance to zoo animals.
It also turned out that Thorat had asked for the most docile of the cubs to pet.
Forest officials, who had spent months with the three cubs now in the zoo, and had hand-raised them after they were brought to the zoo from the wild, were called in. They suggested the one that was likely to be the meekest.
“This was to help the minister in his act of bravado,” said a forest official, who was part of the team that rescued the cubs from the forests of Junona in Chandrapur in November 2008.
The zoo, maintained by Punjab Krishi Vidyapeeth, had come under scrutiny in 2006 when Central authorities wanted to close it down, alleging substandard level of upkeep of animals and their healthcare facilities. It was cleared of all objections raised by CZA in 2007.
Speaking to HT from Delhi, CZA scientist Brij Gupta said: “We want to know if the cubs were sedated to allow the minister inside the cage. It will be even a bigger violation in that case,” he said.
Unlikely, said the sources. “These cubs were hand-raised and are familiar with human interactions. The authorities also chose the most docile one,” said a senior official of the state wildlife wing.
(Inputs from Pradip Kumar Maitra)