13 months after tigress Avni’s killing, Maharashtra government reopens probe
The Uddhav Thackeray-led state government has reopened investigations into the killing of tigress T1 or Avni by independent hunters appointed by the state forest department. The move comes after wildlife conservationist Jerryl Banait on Wednesday submitted a letter to the state government and met chief minister (CM) Thackeray and state environment minister Aaditya Thackeray, highlighting inconsistencies in the events leading up to Avni’s killing.
On November 2, 2018, Avni was shot dead in Yavatmal by Asghar Ali Khan, son of independent hunter Nawab Shafath Ali Khan, who had been hired by the forest department. Avni had allegedly killed 13 people since June 2016, forcing the forest department to initiate a hunt for her.
However, according to a state-appointed committee, DNA analysis could only confirm the deaths of six people directly due to Avni. Despite numerous unanswered questions, the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra absolved the hunters and closed the case in February 2019. State housing minister Jitendra Awhad said on Thursday, “I have spoken to the CM who directed the forest secretary to reopen the probe. All events and decisions leading up to the tigress’ death and what followed will now be reinvestigated.”
Banait, who met CM Thackeray and environment minister Aaditya on Wednesday, highlighted several inconsistencies in the events leading up to Avni’s killing, and inaction by the state despite reports from two committees (one appointed by the Centre and the other by the state government), both listing violations of Arms, Narcotic Drugs And Psychotropic Substances (NDPS), and Wildlife Protection Acts.
Commenting on the decision to reopen the probe, Banait said, “It is a welcome move that 13 months after the incident, the state government has decided to reopen the case to ensure justice is served for the voiceless species.”
The committee reports pointed out that Asghar was not authorised to shoot the animal as his father had been appointed, and that he used a gun and bullet that are not allowed as per Central guidelines. The committees also rejected the hunters’ claim that the animal was shot in self-defence. “The trajectory of the bullet showed the animal was facing away from the person who fired it,” the Centre’s report had said.
Nitin Kakodkar, principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), said, “The Maharashtra forest department had submitted its final report with findings of the investigating officer, state committee report, and comments of the chief wildlife warden in the form of a closure report to the state government as per the protocol in such matters. I am not aware of what has happened beyond that.”
Anup Nayak of National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) said, “Our report highlighted clear violations. Despite several reminders over the past year to the Maharashtra government to convey action taken and submit a compliance report, we have not received any response so far.”