Vijay Pinjarkar, Times News Network, 8 February 2019
Even as the Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM) has ‘covered up’ Pandharkawda’s tigress T1 (Avni) shooting case, the state government has kept the matter open and is awaiting reply from the state committee on what sections of various Acts were violated.
On January 30, 2019, a day before the retirement of PCCF (wildlife) AK Misra, FDCM assistant manager & investigation officer (IO) VS Sarpe, Yavatmal, closed the case saying all forensic and ballistic tests have been done and “no violations of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, or Arms Act 1959 is found by Asghar Ali Khan, who was authorized to shoot and he shot T1 in self-defence.” Interestingly, copy of the letter is addressed to Hyderabad commissioner of police but not any of the forest officials including FDCM MD N Rambabu.
Rambabu said, “I’ve not seen the report and hence cannot comment.”
FDCM’s attempt ostensibly seems to give a clean chit to not only Asghar but also Misra, who retired on January 31. On January 18, Sarpe collected the weapon from Hyderabad and ballistic report was submitted on January 25. Subsequently, final report was submitted on January 30 proving that all was well.
Sarpe has kicked up a storm by closing the case and contradicting both state and NTCA reports which already scrapped self-defence theory and stated that violations of WPA 1972, Arms Act, Narcotic & Psychotropic Substance Act, Drugs & Cosmetic Act and violations of NTCA guidelines and sop was don
The committee consisted of top experts including K Ullas Karanth, Bilal Habib, Parag Nigam, Anish Andheria, Jose Louis, PCCFs SH Patil and Nitin Kakodkar, and ex-APCCF OP Kaler, who went into every aspect of the case and exposed the violations.
“It is a clear-cut attempt by FDCM to cover up the case by giving clean chit to shooter Asghar, who was not authorized to shoot. The order was in the name of his father Shafath, who was not even present when T1 was shot dead. As per Section 11(1) and Section 5, CCF can’t authorize anyone to hunt the animal,” said Debi Goenka, executive director of Conservation Action Trust (CAT), Mumbai.
A senior forest officer related to the T1 operation admitted that the FDCM officials wasted enough time in bringing the weapon under the garb of polls in Telangana. TOI has copy of a letter written by Asghar himself which states that the weapon was not with police but in a private armoury. The IO kept misleading that weapon was with Hyderabad police due to elections.
APCCF (mantralaya) Virendra Tiwari said, “The case is not closed yet. We have asked the state committee to clarify which sections of the Acts are violated. The report is still awaited. The state has also not received ballistic and IO’s report and hence the issue is open. We will examine the issue from law and judiciary ministry once we receive reply from state committee.”
TOI on Thursday reported that Maharashtra closed the Avni case by a giving clean chit to Asghar. This invoked sharp reactions from NTCA and some state panel experts.
“I have just heard about it but did not read the IO’s report. I am really surprised to hear that FDCM gave clean chit to the shooter,” said NTCA member-secretary Anup Kumar Nayak.
“We too have called PCCF (wildlife) comments on NTCA report, which was submitted in November last. On Wednesday we also sent a second reminder to state chief secretary on the issue. We will initiate action once we receive state’s say,” said Nayak.
Ex-PCCF (wildlife) AK Misra admits, “I’ve submitted my comments to state government and not NTCA. The IO must have closed the case in offence registered at his level.”
Surprised by FDCM move, the Wildlife Conservation Socieyt (WCS) director K Ullas Karanth apprised additional principal secretary Praveen Pardeshi asking to look into the matter and make the state committee report public to maintain transparency.
“We have written to chief wildlife warden on various sections being violated. High level committees were formed and government cannot overlook them,” said one of the members on the condition of anonymity.
Yavatmal honorary wildlife warden Ramzan Virani said, “Sarpe being appointed as IO itself is illegal. He was the duty officer when T1 was shot dead on November 2 night. Shockingly, he along with divisional manager Praful Wagh, reached the spot 3 hours late. How can a duty officer concerned be an IO. There are doubts he must have conducted the probe fairly.”