Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday said justice would prevail in a tragic incident in which a pregnant wild elephant suffered a painful death in the state after consuming a fruit laced with explosives. He also alleged that some people, including union ministers, were using the incident to tarnish the image of the state.
"In a tragic incident in Palakkad district, a pregnant elephant has lost its life. Many of you have reached out to us. We want to assure you that your concerns will not go in vain. Justice will prevail," Vijayan said in a tweet.
He added that an investigation is underway and is focusing on three suspects. "The police and forest departments will jointly investigate the incident. The district police chief and the district forest officer visited the site today. We will do everything possible to bring the culprits to justice," he said in another tweet.
"We will also try to address the causes behind the increased incidences of human-wildlife conflict. Climate change could be adversely affecting both the local communities and animals," he added.
We will also try to address the causes behind the increased incidences of Human-wildlife conflict. Climate change could be adversely affecting both the local communities & animals. — Pinarayi Vijayan (@vijayanpinarayi) June 4, 2020
Vijayan said personnel of Kerala Police and the forest department's Crime Investigation Team visited the spot and collected evidence.
His remarks came after the forest department on Thursday took one person into custody for questioning and said the elephant may have eaten jaggery-coated crackers that farmers use to ward off wild boars and not a pineapple as believed till now.
The Kerala Raj Bhavan's Public Relations Officer in a tweet said the state Forest Department has registered a case under the Wildlife (Protection) Act of 1972.
"The Kerala Police have registered a case under the Explosives Act, 1884, and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960," it quoted Governor Arif Mohammed Khan as saying. "Two high-level special teams of police and forest departments are investigating the cases."
"I have already taken up the matter with the state government expressing my anguish. The government of Kerala is taking adequate and strong actions and those responsible for this abominable act will be brought to justice," added the Governor.
Officials said the person being questioned works at the farmland where the elephant was last seen. The elephant had died in the Velliyar River in Palakkad district on May 27. The animal entered the river and stood in the water for hours after it consumed the cracker-filled fruit.
Principal chief conservator of forest and chief wildlife warden Surendra Kumar said the elephant being fed a pineapple filled with crackers is just one of the possibilities, which has not been ruled out. “We don't have evidence of that yet,” he told News18.
The cracker is believed to have exploded inside the elephant’s mouth when it chewed the fruit. Its jaw was found broken. The cruelty of the act has caused global outrage and led to the Kerala forest department launching an investigation. The central government has also ordered a probe into the incident.
Vijayan also said that he was "saddened by the fact" that "some have used this tragedy to unleash a hate campaign".
"Lies built upon inaccurate descriptions and half-truths were employed to obliterate the truth. Some even tried to import bigotry into the narrative. Wrong priorities," he said, adding that Kerala is a society that respects outrage against injustice.
'Organised campaign against state'
Vijayan said there was an "organised campaign" at the national level against Kerala and Malappuram district and accused the central ministers of being involved in spreading contradictory facts and statements.
"There is an organised campaign against Kerala and Malappuram at national level.... it is really unfortunate that certain people are using this incident to tarnish the image of the state and Malappuram in particular," he said. "In spite of having clarified that the incident took place in Palakkad and not in Malappuram as being propagated, people including central ministers are still not willing to correct the mistake. It now looks like they are doing it deliberately. This is not acceptable and any efforts to spread hatred using this incident will not be tolerated."
The move to question the self-respect of the state cannot be accepted, said Vijayan, adding the attack was coming at a time when it was battling the COVID-19 pandemic.
When asked about Maneka Gandhi's statement that the incident happened in Malappuram, Vijayan said, "If those who had made mistakes are not ready to rectify it, then it means it was a deliberate attempt."
Gandhi had earlier tweeted that Malappuram is known for "its intense criminal activity" specially "with regard to animals".
Meanwhile, the state Forest department in a tweet said, "There is no conclusive evidence that injury to lower jaw was caused by a pineappple stuffed with crackers. However, this may be a possibility."
Slamming Gandhi, Congress leader Ramesh Chenntihala said her statement on Malappuram had "given a space for airing hate speeches abusing a district and its people".
Attempts were made to politicise the incident by stating that it took place in Rahul Gandhi's constituency Wayanad, he tweeted.
(With inputs from PTI)