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THE controversy over the disappearance of iconic Umred-Karhandla tiger Jai seems to have led to a war within the BJP, with Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar writing to Home Minister Rajnath Singh to summon BJP MP from Bhandara-Gondia Nana Patole to furnish evidence about the tiger’s death, as the latter claimed in a section of media earlier in the day, and then institute a CBI probe into the alleged poaching.
Patole caused embarrassment to the state government Tuesday by claiming that Jai had been poached and that forest department officials must face action for their negligence.
Patole cited Jai’s prolonged disappearance as a reason to believe that it had been poached but placed no material evidence in support. He also said he would file a complaint with the PMO in the matter.
“Patole has claimed that the tiger has been poached. I had sent some senior officials to meet him and collect the evidence that he claims to have. He, however, was not available and is believed to have left for Delhi. I have written to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to get Patole to furnish evidence about Jai’s poaching and then institute a CBI probe,” Mungantiwar told The Indian Express.
Patole had earlier raised a storm by tabling a private member’s Bill on Vidarbha statehood. It had caused consternation to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, leading to many pro-Vidarbha protests.
As four months have passed since the last sighting of Jai, suspicion is growing about the possibility of the tiger being dead. The forest department, however, continues to maintain that in the absence of any “material evidence” to support the claims of Jai’s death, the possibility of it being alive cannot be discounted.
A few days ago, the forest department had arrested two persons from Kodurli village in Paoni tehsil of Bhandara district adjacent to Umred after a search revealed existence of snares in their houses. They, however, claimed they did not kill Jai and are currently out on bail.
Recently, a new story about a father-son duo from the same village being possibly the culprits has surfaced. There were rumours that the father had confided in his doctor, who he was visiting for treatment of his blood pressure problem, that he had killed a tiger by electrocution in his field. The forest department’s inquiry with the doctor, however, yielded no confirmation.
Kodurli, incidentally, is where radio-collared Jai’s last signal had come from on April 18.
In a press statement issued Tuesday, the forest department said, “Rumours about Jai’s death are being floated without any material evidence. If anybody has any evidence to the effect, it may please be provided to the forest department.”
It claimed that department staffers were engaged in the search for Jai and such rumours caused trouble for the operation.
Most wildlife activists have, however, accused the department of not doing any search at all. In fact, the claim that they are searching for the tiger also flies in the face of the stance taken by top officials that tigers coming in and going out of forests should not be such a big concern as it is a biological and ecological fact of conservation.
The department has claimed that Jai “may have ventured deep into the forest in view of availability of prey-base and water”. This fact also doesn’t gel with Jai’s reputation as a ‘cattle-lifter’. For the last four months, there has been a sudden silence on this front too.