February 27, 2017 3:34:11 am
Even before the five-day anti-poaching drive launched by acting director of the Corbett tiger reserve Parag Dhakate came to an end, Uttarakhand forest department replaced him with Dheeraj Pandey, conservator of forests, Kalagarh tiger reserve, Saturday. While announcing the special drive last week, Dhakate courted controversy when he was quoted by a section of the media as having asked his staff to shoot poachers at sight inside the reserve. According to sources in the state forest department, “unnecessary media exposure over a routine initiative” caused his abrupt removal.
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“The marching order has been issued. Only the wildlife division will be able to comment on this,” said Rajender Mahajan, principal chief conservator of forests of Uttarakhand.
While claiming that the change had nothing to do with the controversy, state chief wildlife warden D S Khati underlined that no forest officer could issue a shoot-at-sight order. “The officer (Dhakate) has already clarified that he never issued such an order. Forest staff have immunity against criminal proceedings against them since 2001,” he said.
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Under the law, only a magistrate can issue such a shoot-at-sight order. In 2001, the Uttarakhand government had ordered that no criminal case would be filed against forest staff, pending a magisterial probe, for shooting someone while discharging their duty. It has been in force since.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Dhakate claimed that nobody in the department asked him for clarification. “My comment was misunderstood. Most forest guards have retired since the 2001 order was issued. I just reminded the younger lot about the order as a morale-booster. But that immunity (offered in the 2001 order) comes with a number of precautions which should always be read together,” he said.
Khati downplayed the controversy as “needless” and descried the change as a “practical” move. “Since Dhakate already has a pretty large area to look after, we relieved him of this temporary additional charge and asked a Corbett officer to fill in,” he said without commenting on how Dhakate was given the additional charge only a week ago and what forced a rethink so soon.
Corbett director Surendra Mehra is attending a month-long service training and Dhakate, conservator of forests, western circle, was given interim charge of the tiger reserve in his absence on February 18. Corbett deputy director
Amit Verma is also away organising the transfer of elephants from Karnataka. Dhakate could not confirm if the drive was still on. “I have already handed over the charge,” he said.
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