In a dramatic turn of events, Maharashtra Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar asked sharp-shooter Shafath Ali Khan to stay away from the tigress capture operation in Yavatmal, and recalled the Madhya Pradesh rescue team back to the affected Ralegaon area. Meanwhile, the headquarters of Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (wildlife) A K Mishra and an Additional PCCF Sunil Limaye were shifted to Pandharkawda divisional office.
The sudden move follows an intervention by Union Minister Maneka Gandhi, who is believed to have opposed Khan’s involvement in the operation, which began last week after the Supreme Court upheld the shoot order against the tigress that is believed to have killed at least five people. Along with the tigress, her two ten-month-old cubs are also to be captured.
Reacting to the developments, Khan said, “I have been told to keep away. It’s good for the Forest Department. They will feel free to do it in their own way since I have my own system of functioning. But I will return to render my services whenever called back. I have always been the last resort of authorities in such situations.” Khan, who has said that the next human kill is waiting to happen in the area, warned that should another tragedy happen, lives of elephants in the area will be in danger.”
As reported earlier, Khan’s involvement was also being opposed by wildlife activists, who suspected that the ‘trigger -happy’ shooter was set to kill the tigress instead of trying to capture her alive by tranquillisation. However, Khan was Mungantiwar’s favoured choice for the operation.
Khan had told The Indian Express that it was impossible to capture the tigress alive. Khan had allegedly run into disputes with elephant-aided MP rescue team, whose services, too, had been called in the initial week. Mungantiwar had expressed his anger at wildlife activists for ‘creating hurdles’ in the operation by opposing the sharp-shooter, who he said was the most experienced and successful shooter and tranquiliser in the country.
“Maneka Gandhi said she will arrange to send the MP team back. I told her that I can give them five days to do the needful, failing which I will recall Khan,” Mungantiwar told The Indian Express. ” I have also sought shooters from National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA). After all, they, too, must have some arrangement for such situations, shouldn’t they, ” Mungantiwar added. He further said, “I have asked PCCF Mishra and his deputy to shift their office to Pandharkawda till the operation is over. He will do all his routine work also from there. They will keep daily contact with local representatives, who are deeply worried. And they will report the situation to me every three hours.”
MP PCCF Shahbaz Ahmed said, “I was asked by Maneka Gandhi to send back my team. I said let them send me a request first.” Asked if he was ready to send his team, Ahmed said, “bhej denge (will send).”