Alarmed at the rising instances of tiger poaching in the state tiger reserves, the state forest department has asked forest officials to shoot poachers on sight.
Forest minister Patangrao Kadam told reporters on Tuesday that the directive had been issued to all forest divisions. "The death caused by preventive shooting will not be treated as offence under the Indian Penal Code. We have made a legal provision to safeguard our staff from any excesses by so-called human right activists," the minister said.
The forest guards and officers will be armed with self-loading rifles and will be provided additional vehicles to enable a 24x7 vigil.
Over the past fortnight, unidentified poachers killed two tigers in Chandrapur district. One trapped tiger was rescued by forest officials a couple of days ago but it is unlikely to survive the wounds caused by the iron jaw trap and renal failure.
Maharashtra has 169 tigers and most of them inhabit the three tiger reserves in Vidarbha region-Tadoba, Melghat and Pench. In one year, the state lost eight tigers to poachers of which, seven killings happened in Chandrapur's Tadoba and Andhari reserves.
Some days ago, the government had issued a red alert after an intelligence input suggested that tiger poachers of the notorious Bahelia group in Madhya Pradesh had been paid an advance of Rs40 lakh for killing 25 big cats in the state.
Pravin Pardeshi, principal secretary of the forest department, said that the staffers were more vigilant and it was because of their alertness that poaching incidents came to light.
He said that the government has deployed 70 more guards in Tadoba and Andhari reserves and 523 vacancies would be filled as soon as possible.