THE Nagpur bench of Bombay High Court has dismissed a fresh PIL questioning the discrepancies between two orders regarding an operation to tranquilise and shoot the tigress of Pandharkawda and capture her two cubs.
The bench comprising Justice Bhushan Dharmadhikari and Justice S M Modak upheld the Forest Department’s explanation through an affidavit on the queries the court had raised on the petition filed by activists Jerryl Banait from Nagpur and Sarita Subrananiam of Earth Brigade Foundation from Mumbai.
The petitioners had pointed out that the September 4 order of the Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) A K Mishra had put the capture of the two cubs first followed by the tranquilisation of the tigress or shooting her if the situation warranted. But in the order appointing shooter Shafath Ali Khan for the operation on September 10, the order was reversed, they had argued.
They had also sought to know the procedural details of the operations. They had also questioned the role of the shooter by citing the letters written by Pandharkawda Deputy Conservator of Forest K M Abharna and Yavatmal Chief Conservator of Forest P G Rahurkar, where they had raised several complaints against Shafath Ali Khan.
They had said that the shooter was acting like a king and had been given blanket permission to shoot the tigress when attempt has to be made to tranquilise her first. They had also argued that since the tigress hadn’t killed a human for the past three months, could she be tagged as habitual man-eater.
The court had on October 16 asked the Forest Department to explain if there was any change in the sequence of operation stated in September 4 order and if the tigress not killing a human in three months had any bearing on the operation. The department’s counsel Kartik Shukul had stated in an affidavit on October 19 that there was no change in the sequence of operation and that there was no bearing on the operation because of the time lag between the two kills. Shukul had also pointed out that the time lag was actually 52 days.
The court, however, had asked the respondents to explain the functioning, composition, number of weapons with them and the contingencies in which the tigress can be eliminated. On Monday, Shukul submitted that eliminating the tigress would be the last resort.
The affidavit further mentioned that there are 150-200 people working in the field for the operation. They belong to Police Department, Special Tiger Protection Force units, apart from Forest Department staff. Seven tranquilising guns, six shooting guns with policemen and two belonging to Shafath Ali Khan have been allotted for the operation, the affidavit submitted.
It further stated that there are combing, tracking and capture teams. The affidavit also stated that tabs were being kept on graziers moving in and out of forests and also on the movement of public in the vicinity.
About the contingencies in which the tigress could be eliminated, the Department submitted that if the tigress could be shot at if she attacks the tracking or tranquilising team or if she approaches the villages or people working in the farm.
The affidavit was signed by DCF Abharna, who had incidentally written a complaint against Shafat Ali Khan on September 20, stating how the shooter had deliberately missed two clear opportunities to tranquilise the tigress.
She had also complained that Nawab was frequently giving interviews to the media and was also reporting to the Chief Wildlife Warden that people were venturing into forest and working in the farms at night when the Forest Department teams were working hard to prevent these things. She had also complained that Shafath’s team’s night movement had made the tigress shift locations, thereby complicating the tracking operation.
Abharna had also stated that all this was causing confusion and could prove dangerous for the staff. She had also sought a unified command to avoid such pitfalls. The bench disposed off the petition saying that all questions raised by it had been answered in the affidavit and all allegations against the department were unsubstantiated and there was no merit in the prayer that warranted the court’s interference.
Meanwhile, the tigress T1 and her two cubs were found moving near Sarati, Krishnapur and Khergaon villages on Saturday night and the tigress’s camera trap picture was also received at 1.30 am on Sunday in compartment number 86. At Sarati, a villager Narayan Soyam and his son had seen the tigress just 50 meters from Sarati at midnight when they had gone out to attend nature’s call.