Maneka Gandhi writes to Uttarakhand CM, demands probe in Rajaji leopard poaching
Union minister also asks for temporary suspension of chief wildlife warden, Rajaji Tiger Reserve director and ranger until investigation is completeUpdated: May 04, 2018 21:44 IST
Union minister Maneka Gandhi has urged Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat Trivendra Singh Rawat to order a high-level probe into the alleged poaching of a leopard in the core area of Rajaji Tiger Reserve (RTR).
In a letter dated May 4, 2018, the Union cabinet minister for women and child development has asked for temporary suspension of chief wildlife warden DVS Khati, RTR director Sanatan Sonkar and ranger Motichur Komal Singh until the investigation was over so that they do not influence the probe.
The senior BJP leader who is also an animal rights activist also mentioned in the letter that despite orders of state forest minister Harak Singh Rawat, the department failed to conduct a transparent investigation into the incident following which she had to appeal to the CM seeking his immediate attention.
Maneka has alleged that the first person arrested in the case — Sonu — was an informer and it was only to put the blame on someone that the RTR management arrested him. The letter also mentioned that the case reported on papers was fraudulently shown at 2 pm while the actual seizure on the ground took place in the evening after 5pm indicating that the officers are trying to mislead the probe.
Leopard skin and body parts were found in pits in the core area of Rajaji, in Motichur range, on March 22. A forest team had raided the area and made the seizure. The team that raided the area was constituted by the head of forest force (HoFF) and principal chief conservator of forest (PCCF) Jai Raj. Neither Rajaji management nor the CWW was informed about the raid.
The RTR director had then handed over the inquiry to the warden of the same range — Komal Singh — who in his report had alleged involvement of two activists —Dinesh Pandey and Rajeev Mehta — and also hinted at support of a senior forest officer.
Based on this investigation, the CWW demanded the additional chief secretary constitute a special investigation team to probe into the incident. But, before additional chief secretary could take any action, the HoFF, in an official order, made whistleblower IFS, Sanjeev Chaturvedi investigation officer (IO).
To this, the CWW had replied that under The Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, the HoFF does not have any powers to order investigation in a protected area.
“The CWW and director never wanted Chaturvedi as an IO as he will expose them,” Pandey had said.
Prior to the incident coming to fore, the CWW had banned wildlife activist Rajeev Mehta from entering the protected area on the charges of money laundering. Mehta had last year knocked the doors of Nainital High Court after five tiger skins were seized in 2016 highlighting how CWW mishandled the accused and also tried to cover up the evidence. The poaching was reported on the periphery of Corbett Tiger Reserve and Lansdowne forest division, as per officers.
“If the matter has reached the government, then let them take a call on it,” HoFF Jai Raj said.