Union women and child development Minister Maneka Gandhi has lashed out at her party colleague, Maharashtra Minister for Environment and Forests Sudhir Mungantiwar, over what she termed as the “ghastly murder” of the man-eater tigress Avni (T1) in Yavatmal on Friday night.
Maneka said that she would pursue the issue “legally, criminally as well as politically”. “I will be writing to CM Maharashtra to take strong action in this matter,” she said.
In a series of tweets and a press statement targetting Mungantiwar on Sunday, Maneka wrote: “I am deeply saddened by the way the tigress Avni has been murdered by a professional anti-national killer at the behest of the minister in Yavatmal, Maharashtra. It is nothing but a straight case of crime. Despite requests from his own forest department and people all over India, Sudhir Mungantiwar, Minister for Environment and Forests, Maharashtra gave orders for the killing.”
Mungantiwar responded by pointing out that the Supreme Court had allowed the tigress to be shot and that it was done only after it tried to attack forest officials who attempted to tranquilise it.
Asked about Maneka’s comments, Mungantiwar said: “In her heart, she has a lot of love for animals but along with it, I am sure, there is love for human beings also.”
— Maneka Gandhi (@Manekagandhibjp) November 4, 2018
Of the 13 people killed in tiger attacks in the Pandharkawada divisional forest in over two years, five deaths were attributed to Avni. The tigress was hunted down in the forests of Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district on Friday as part of an operation. She was shot by marksman Asgar Ali, son of well-known sharpshooter Nawab Shafat Ali. The six-year old tigress is survived by her two cubs who are 10 months old.
Maneka pointed out in her statement that the “ghastly murder has put two cubs at the edge of a sad death” and this is the third such instance where a tiger was killed on directions of the Environment and Forest Minister.
“Earlier, a dozen leopards and 300 wild boars have been killed on his directions. I am shocked that such a person is continuing to hold a ministerial position. Every time he has used the Hyderabad shooter, Shafat Ali Khan and this time his son has also appeared on the scene illegally to kill the tigress. His son was not authorised to kill. This is patently illegal,” she said.
She added that instead of forest officials being allowed to tranquilise, capture and quarantine the tigress, Mungantiwar ordered the “the trigger-happy shooter” to kill her. “The tigress was a mother. Now her two cubs will also die. We cannot allow this kind of insensitive and merciless attitude towards animals to prevail,” she said.
Mungantiwar said Maneka’s statements were based on incomplete information. “She is our respected leader. We will send her all information. The fact is that this case had gone up to the Supreme Court and the forest department has acted on the directive of the Supreme Court. Mahrashtra government is doing a good job of tiger conservation. Thirteen lives were lost. We also had to take into the consideration the sense of terror among our Adivasi and farmer brothers. She had to be shot as she attacked the forest officials who tried tranquilising her,” he said.
Mungantiwar said that had Maneka known these facts, she wouldn’t have doubted “the integrity of forest officials and the integrity of Adivasi and farmer brothers”.
“It is not right to doubt the forest officials who put their lives at jeopardy and work day and night, conserve the environment, and serve us. Once she knows the facts of the case, I am sure she will regret her tweets. It is not right to talk about them like this,” he said.
The first order to shoot T1 was issued in January but was stayed by the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court after the tigress was found to be moving with her cubs. The second order came after the three successive fatal attacks in August, leading to massive public outrage. Again, the activists went to court. On September 6, the High Court, and on September 11, the Supreme Court disposed of their petition.
The operation to capture or kill T1 and capture her cubs had been going on since then, making it one of the longest such in the country to capture or kill a tiger.