A MAN who had reportedly escaped from the forest department’s custody was found dead near his village on Saturday, sparking off protests against the department. Hundreds of villagers blocked National Highway 7 on Sunday.
According to officials, Mahadev Chaitram Uike (49) from Dhawlapur village in Parshivni area of Nagpur district was arrested on August 17 by a forest department team probing the alleged poaching of two tigers in the Pench Tiger Reserve (PTR). He allegedly escaped from the Amaltash tourist complex in PTR early in the morning on August 18, and was reportedly untraceable since, officials said. His body was recovered about two km from his village on Saturday. While a post-mortem conducted at Nagpur’s Government Medical College on Sunday found “no homicidal signs” on Uike’s body, there is outrage among villagers.
Local Zilla Parishad member Shantabai Kumre has expressed suspicions that “something had happened to Uike in custody”.
This is the second time that an accused has allegedly fled the forest department’s custody in the case. Earlier, last month, the department had claimed one Devidas Kumre, who was among the first to be arrested in the case, had run away.
The man turned up in court with a fracture in his leg, which he claimed he sustained after a fall while running away. Shantabai Kumre and local villagers had then alleged that Kumre was beaten up in custody, causing the injury.
On Sunday, Parsheoni villagers staged a chakkajam on NH 7, alleging foul play.
“We are not ready to believe that Uike died a natural death. His back had injury marks like those caused by a wooden baton. His nostrils and lips were frozen. We believe his body was kept in a freezer and was thrown near his village so the department could escape blame. Had he not escaped from custody, he would not have died. We have demanded suspension of two Range Forest officials — Pandurang Pakhale and Nilesh Gawande — and PTR Field Director Hrishikesh Ranjan has agreed to take action within four days,” said Shantabai Kumre.
Kumre refuted the allegation that Uike “used tiger body parts for black magic” and was “connected to black magicians” in adjoining Madhya Pradesh. Saoner Congress MLA Sunil Kedar said, “Even if doctors have ruled out murder, how can an accused escape from forest custody? Why could he not be traced for the past 10 days?” Ranjan said, “We had not handcuffed him because he had claimed to be a diabetic. After he escaped, we immediately suspended three Special Tiger Protection Force guards. We made all efforts to trace him and also informed the Deolapar and Parsheovni police stations. His body clearly suggested a fresh death with no injury marks.” Ranjan had earlier said that Uike may have been a victim of people involved in the poaching case.
Superintendent of Police (Nagpur rural) Shailesh Balkawde said, “Doctors have ruled out homicidal signs. The viscera has been sent to the forensic laboratory. We are expecting the report in three-four days. We have set up a probe under Ramtek Sub-Divisional Police Officer Lohit Mathani. Asked how Uike could evade both the police and forest sleuths tracking him since his escape, Balkawde said, “It is possible that he remained hidden in the forest and was helped by some acquaintances…”