New Delhi: Union minister Maneka Gandhi has written to Maharashtra chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis alleging that the forest department had been advised by its top brass to not catch the cubs of the tigress T1, nickednamed Avni, "till they died or see that they were killed."
In the letter, Gandhi wrote, "We had sent a team of NGOs to Yavatmal recently and found that no attempt was being made by the local forest department or CWLW (Chief Wildlife Warden) to catch the cubs. In fact we were told by the villagers that the team has been advised to not catch them till they died or to see that they were killed."
Earlier this month, the man-eater tigress T1 was gunned down, following which on November 3, Maharashtra principal chief conservator of forests (Wildlife) A K Misra, had said that the tigress was killed in self-defence.
However, the post-mortem report appeared to rule out the claim that the tigress was killed in self-defence.
Gandhi has suggested a team of experts "from outside" to assist in the catching of the two cubs. The Union Minister has written, "In the face of national anger over the killing of the mother and concern at the plight of the cubs, you get the team of veterinarians and forest people from outside."
She also reiterated that she had sent a list of names to Maharashtra state principal secretary for forests, Praveen Pardeshi and added, "To the four names sent earlier, I would like to add a fifth, Dr Rajesh Gopal, former head of NTCA (National Tiger Conservation Authority)."
The Maharashtra forest department has denied the allegations, though Mishra refused to comment officially. A senior official maintained that efforts were ongoing in trying to capture the cubs alive.
"There are more than 150 people from the department that includes veterinarians, Special Tiger Protection Force (STPF) teams, forest workers who are searching for the tigers. They have also kept pieces of meat for the cubs to eat. An expert team of leopard rescuers from the Sanjay Gandhi National Park have also arrived in Pandharkawda to help rescue the cubs," said an official.
Since the death of tigress Avni, a political firestorm had erupted and Gandhi lashed out at forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar over the ‘ghastly murder’.
In a statement, she had written that she was “deeply saddened by the way 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…Sudhir Mungantiwar, Minister for Environment and Forests, Maharashtra gave orders for the killing,” she had added.
In response to her allegations, the forest minister had asserted that the Supreme Court had given the green signal and that Avni was shot only after the purported attack on the forest department team on the ground.