Tiger conservation body rejects govt report on killing of Avni as unfactual
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has thrashed the findings of the Maharashtra forest department, which gave clean chit to private hunters hired by the government, in the killing of tigress T1 or Avni.
NTCA, which runs under the Union environment ministry, in its internal report, called the Forest Department Corporation of Maharashtra’s (FDCM) findings “neither factual nor complete”.
HT accessed the internal report through a Right to Information (RTI) application filed by Earth Brigade Foundation, which petitioned the Bombay high court (HC) alleging that the killing violated forest and animal rights laws. The new Maharashtra government has reopened the case earlier this month.
Avni was shot dead by Asghar Ali Khan, son of independent hunter Nawab Shafath Ali Khan, in Yavatmal on November 2, 2018. On January 30, 2019 FDCM’s investigating officer VS Sarpe’s report said the shooter was authorised to kill the animal and that no laws were violated as the tigress was shot in self-defence. The government report also said that a ballistic analysis verified that there was no violation of Arms Act.
The counter-analysis by NTCA said FDCM’s report ignored the allegations that unauthorised quantity of drugs was carried by Asghar Ali and Mukhbir Sheikh to tranquilise T1. NTCA further said the trajectory of the bullet found in T1’s body disproved the claim that the animal was shot by the hunter in self-defence. It stressed that Avni could have been tranquilised earlier when it was spotted by the hunters. NTCA also pointed out the hunters had not submitted the weapons used during the operation for two months and 23 days for investigation.
“Instead of carrying out an independent inquiry, FDCM’s report has unnecessarily ventured into countering NTCA’s findings… The report by the state government is neither factual nor complete to address findings under NTCA’s inquiry report,” NTCA concluded.
NTCA pointed out that FDCM was completely silent on the violation of section 5(2) of the Wildlife (Protection) Act (WPA), 1972, wherein only the chief wildlife warden is allowed to delegate powers to put down a schedule 1 animal. In this case, the chief conservator of forest (Yavatmal) had authorised the hunters.
NTCA has issued seven reminders to the Maharashtra government since January 2019 to report on the final action taken in the case but no responses have been filed so far. “We will continue to send reminders until we are informed about appropriate action taken to close this case. Further action is being planned,” said Anup Nayak, member secretary, NTCA.
Two independent reports — one from a state-appointed committee and one from NTCA — said the entire incident amounted to violations of WPA; Arms Act, 1959; and Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985. “FDCM’s closure report by a low ranking officer is just for convenience. It is trying to malign scientifically produced reports by NTCA,” said Dr PV Subramaniam, Earth Brigade Foundation.
Nitin Kakodkar, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), who was also a member of the state’s independent committee, said, “My comments as chief wildlife warden were different from what the FDCM’s investigating officer had submitted. The closure report was sent to the state, and I am not aware of what has happened beyond that.”