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Thursday, August 06, 2020

Maharashtra forest watcher held by MP for five months for ‘moving tiger carcass’ as states fight over probe

The tigress, Sharmili, reported on MP Forest Department’s record, was found dead in Seoni forests on MP side of the state boundary with Nagpur district on December 11 last year. After arresting Dhamsingh Khandate, MP officials said he had told them that the animal had died on the Maharashtra side.

Written by Vivek Deshpande , Milind Ghatwai | Bhopal, Nagpur | Published: July 2, 2020 4:02:44 am
madhya pradesh forest dept, shifting of tigress carcass case, Maharashtra plantation watcher, maharashtra plantation watcher plea, indian express news Officials from MP maintain that Khandate was involved, along with a few Maharashtra Forest Department staff members, in the alleged crime. Since then, he has been in jail without bail. (Representational)

Five months after his arrest by Madhya Pradesh Forest Department for alleged involvement in “shifting” the carcass of a tigress from Maharashtra side to the MP side of the state boundary, a plantation watcher from Maharashtra is likely to have his bail plea finally heard.

Dhamsingh Khandate was arrested on January 31, for the alleged crime that took place on December 11 last year. His bail plea is scheduled to come up before the principal bench of MP High Court in Jabalpur on Thursday. Officials from MP maintain that Khandate was involved, along with a few Maharashtra Forest Department staff members, in the alleged crime. Since then, he has been in jail without bail. Meanwhile, the two Forest Departments continue exchanging allegations.

The tigress, Sharmili, reported on MP Forest Department’s record, was found dead in Seoni forests on MP side of the state boundary with Nagpur district on December 11 last year. After arresting Khandate, MP officials said he had told them that the animal had died on the Maharashtra side. According to them, Khandate said he, helped by some others, including Maharashtra forest staffers, loaded the carcass on a bullock cart and moved it to the MP side on directions of Maharashtra “Deputy Ranger” of the area.

But calling Khandate’s ‘written statement’ a “farce”, Nagpur division’s Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) Kalyan Kumar said, “They (MP officials) have attributed the term Deputy Ranger; we don’t use that term. We call him round officer. Clearly, the statement is a farce.”

Maintaining that the tigress had died a natural death, Kumar asked, “Why then would anyone take the risk of carrying the carcass and dump it on the other side?” He cited MP Forest Department’s own post-mortem report calling it a natural death.

Stating that the animal died a natural death, MP’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (PCCF), Wildlife, S K Mandal said, “The Maharashtra forester dumped the carcass in MP out of fear psychosis. We wrote to them to hand over people named by him (Khandate) because he would have definitely informed his seniors before dumping the carcass. Until they hand over their staffer, the probe cannot progress.”

Asked why they would dump the animal’s carcass when it was a natural death, MP PCCF Rajesh Shrivastava, who was PCCF (Wildlife) when the incident took place, said “only they (Maharashtra officials) can answer that, which is why we want to question them”.

Maharashtra forest officials, meanwhile, call it a foul. “After they arrested Khandate, they (MP officials) did not contact us. We approached them after reports emerged in some MP newspapers,” Nagpur CCF Kumar said. “Later, we wrote to them to share the case papers so we could take action against our staffers, if they had any knowledge. But they didn’t respond. We finally sent a team led by our Deputy Conservator of Forest Prabhunath Shukla to Seoni to check the facts.”

According to Kumar, Shukla sought copy of the papers MP officials had. “(But) they refused, saying they (Maharashtra team) can only see and read the papers.”

Mandal said, “They wanted certain documents and we wanted their staffers. Correspondence is on. It was neither a case of poisoning nor of poaching.”

A “crucial evidence” that could work in Khandate’s favour, Maharashtra officials said, is the spot panchnama conducted by MP officials — it reportedly states that the animal’s pug marks were spotted at the site where the carcass was found. Kumar asked, “If the carcass was brought there in a bullock cart how did pug marks get on the spot?”

He also asked why MP forest officials are yet to seize the bullock cart, which could be “such a crucial material evidence”, and arrest the cart’s owner.

To this, Shrivastava said, “We could neither identify the bullock cart owner nor seize the cart. Unless we arrest the deputy ranger and take his statement, we can’t progress,’’ he said.

Kumar asked, “Why didn’t they seek call details of our staffers? It might have led to evidence. They didn’t do it; we did. And we found nothing suspicious. So why should we hand over our staffers to them?… They have clearly made Khandate a scapegoat in the case.”

Kumar also said he has written on multiple occasions to his Seoni counterpart to provide substantial material to be able to act against Maharashtra officials. “Even our PCCF (Wildlife) Nitin Kakidkar has written to his counterpart twice, but there has been no response,” he said.

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