THE National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has barred all state forest departments from engaging a private shooter to kill a tiger for which shoot orders have been issued. There is, however, no clarity if the new guideline is strictly enforceable since the Wildlife Protection Act still contains the provision to engage such persons.
The NTCA has also dropped the use of the word ‘man-eater’ for the animal for which shooting orders have been issued. It will henceforth be described as “dangerous to human life”. The NTCA has also removed the restriction on the bore size of the gun —‘not below .375 magnum’ — to be used to kill the animal.
The changes were conveyed to the officials concerned of various states in a letter dated November 11, days after wildlife activists held candlelight marches at many places to observe the first death anniversary of Pandharkawda tigress T1, popularly called Awani, on November 2. The NTCA’s decisions, however, were taken in a meeting on October 13.
Earlier, the text of the standard operating procedure (SOP) dealing with the procedure to shoot the animal read, “After declaring the man-eater, its elimination should be done by a departmental personnel having the desired proficiency while providing the firearm with the appropriate bore size not below .375 magnum. In case, such expertise is not available within the department, an expert may be co-opted from the other state governments or outside with due authorisation.”
The revised text reads: “After declaring the animal as dangerous to human life, its elimination should be done by departmental personnel having the desired proficiency while providing the firearm with the appropriate bore size. In case such expertise is not available within the department, an expert may be co-opted from the other competent government department.”
A controversy had arisen last year after private shooter Shafath Ali Khan was tasked to kill T1, with activists and tiger lovers opposing his appointment. The controversy had deepened after Khan’s son Asghar shot dead the tigress on November 2 “after failed attempt to tranquilise her, and in self-defence, when the tigress allegedly charged at the tracking team”. Two inquiries, one by the state government and the other by NTCA, had pointed out violations of SOP in the manner in which T1 was killed.
Khan and his team have been tasked with capturing or shooting problem animals, including tigers and leopards in various states, for many years.
On condition of anonymity, an official said, “Section 11 of the Wild life Protection Act clearly empowers the chief wildlife wardens for all states to hire any person they deem fit for the job and there is no restriction on hiring a private shooter. But NTCA has powers to issue guidelines to states Under Section 38 of the same Act. Clearly, Section 11 can be interpreted as having over-riding effect, unless a suitable change is also made in that section.”
“Section 11 doesn’t use the word man-eater. It uses ‘animals dangerous to human life’. The NTCA has only changed its own earlier SOP text, were it had used the word man-eater, to get in tune with the original terminology of the Act,” said the official.
A senior lawyer, who has handled wildlife cases for years, said no such SOP or guideline can hold as long as Section 11 allows engaging any person to shoot the animal. “But since wildlife is a subject on the Concurrent List, the state government can effect any desired change by passage of amendments in the state legislature,” he said.