Two days after a six-month pregnant forest guard, her husband and a daily wager of the Gujarat Forest Department went missing inside the Barda Wildlife Sanctuary in Porbandar district, their bodies were recovered from a stream deep inside the forest on Monday, with the police saying, prima facie, it appeared a case of triple murder.
The police said that Hetal Solanki, 30, a forest guard of Godhana beat in the Bhanvad range of the sanctuary had gone out on routine patrol on Saturday afternoon. She was accompanied by her husband Kirti Solanki, a teacher at a government primary school in Ratdi village of Porbandar taluka, and daily wager Nagajan Agath.
When they did not return till Sunday morning and their phones remained unreachable, Kirti’s father Govind filed a missing person’s report. The couple’s car was found abandoned. A team of around 250 policemen, home guards and police trainees scoured the forest before their bodies were found, SP, Porbandar, Ravi Mohan Saini said.
“Given the difficult terrain, we deployed drones, sniffer dogs and personnel of three police stations, and later pressed in more people,” Saini said.
“Bodies of all three have external injuries on their heads. The nature of the injuries suggests they were hit by a blunt object. Hence, prima facie, it is a case of murder,” the SP said.
The Barda sanctuary had been identified by the Gujarat government as a prospective second home for the endangered Asiatic lions, while opposing in the Supreme Court, pleas seeking translocation of the big cats to Madhya Pradesh in 2013. Spread over 192.31 sq km, the hilly sanctuary is also home to a native population of leopards.
It also has several settlements of cattle-herders as well as several illegal breweries of country liquor. Asked if they were looking at the involvement of bootleggers, the SP said, “We are looking at the incident from all angles.” He added that no problems regarding country liquor, logging or mining had been reported in the area.
Dushyant Vasavada, the Chief Conservator of Forests, Junagadh Wildlife Circle, said Solanki was a forest guard of the 2017 batch. About her husband being with her while she was on patrol duty, Vasavada said, “Forest guards are supposed to live in forest quarters if available, and their family-members are allowed to live there.”
A release by the Porbandar police quoted Solanki’s father Govind as saying the three had set out at 12 pm on Saturday “to keep a watch on illegal activities going on in Barda Dungar”.