Under fire, forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar says Maneka Gandhi should’ve called him to verify facts, says team shot tigress in self-defence.
Mumbai: Following sharp criticism from Union Minister Maneka Gandhi and the public outcry over the killing of the ‘man-eating’ tigress Avni, Maharashtra Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar Monday defended the shooting as an act of self-defence and said he would request Gandhi to constitute any inquiry “she deems fit” to clear her doubts.
“Maneka Gandhi is very passionate about animal rights and may have made some remarks out of ignorance. I am writing to her to request her to constitute an inquiry into the incident at any level, national or even global, that she deems fit to clear any doubts she has,” he said.
“My department will cooperate. It will not be right for the department itself to inquire into the incident because people will then cry conflict of interest.”
The BJP minister added that Gandhi should “have spent at least 50 paisa” in making a call to him regarding her doubts, instead of going public on social media armed with “ignorance and misinformation”.
He also said that the outcry had demoralised the state forest department.
“A number of people have raised doubts and concerns regarding the killing of tigress T1 (as Avni was referred to by the forest department) and made derogatory comments, which has dented the spirit of forest department employees who have been doing their best for tiger conservation,” Mungantiwar told the media. “Tigers are not enemies of the forest department.”
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis too said there needs to be an inquiry to see if there were any lapses in procedure.
“What exactly happened needs to be examined and if there are any lapses in the procedure I will look into it,” Fadnavis said in an interaction with the media at his official residence, Varsha.
“Maneka Gandhi is very sensitive about animal rights issues and calls very often showing concern over animal issues. One needs to understand the sentiment behind what she said,” he added.
Tigress Avni was shot dead Saturday by the son of the controversial Hyderabad-based hunter Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, who was hired by the Maharashtra forest department to capture the tigress. Khan’s involvement in the operation had sparked massive protests from animal rights activists.
Amid the outcry, Gandhi specifically targeted Mungantiwar Sunday, saying he regularly gave orders for the killing of animals, including thrice for tigers, and accused him of always relying on Khan to shoot the animals.
‘Department made all efforts to capture Avni’
Responding to the charges, Mungantiwar Monday insisted that the forest department had made every effort to tranquillise and capture Avni instead of killing her.
On the day the tigress died, the minister said a team of forest department officials had gone in search of the tigress and the nawab’s son was part of the team.
“When they spotted the tigress they fired a dart to tranquilise her but she turned on them. In self-defence, they shot her,” Mungantiwar said.
Forest department officials added that a tiger does not get tranquilised within a few seconds by a single dart. “The tranquilisation too had to be done carefully as we did not want to kill the tigress with an over-dose either,” a senior official said.
‘Followed NTCA norms’
Stating that the tigress had killed 13 people, including eight tribals, since 2016, Mungantiwar said the government had followed the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) guidelines in declaring her a man-eater.
Directions to either tranquilise and capture or as a last resort eliminate Avni were also given as per NTCA guidelines, Mungantiwar said. He added that he had no role in the process as NTCA norms mandate a committee to study the situation and submit a report to the principal chief conservator of forests who issues the directions.
The minister said the directions were initially challenged in the Bombay High Court and later the Supreme Court, both of which ruled in favour of the Maharashtra forest department.
Regarding allegations that he ordered the killing of three tigers, the minister provided statistics to show that such orders were given only twice in his tenure — once in 2017 and now with Avni.
The forest minister defended hiring Khan as the shooter, saying several states such as Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana and Bihar have also turned to him in man-animal conflicts. He made it a point to emphasise, several times, that it was Khan who was hired to capture or kill a tiger in Pilbhit in 2009 when Gandhi was the local MP.