India Today - - UPFRONT - —Ki­ran D. Tare

Hours af­ter a Ma­ha­rash­tra for­est de­part­ment team gunned down the ti­gress Avni on the night of No­vem­ber 2, a po­lit­i­cal slugfest en­sued on whether the al­leged man-eater was sac­ri­ficed in ac­cor­dance with pro­ce­dures laid down by the Supreme Court. A dis­tressed Union women and child devel­op­ment min­is­ter Maneka Gandhi blamed Ma­ha­rash­tra for­est min­is­ter Sud­hir Mun­gan­ti­war for the “ghastly mur­der”. While the lat­ter re­tal­i­ated by ac­cus­ing Gandhi of “cook­ing up sto­ries based on half-baked in­for­ma­tion”, the killing pro­voked all sorts of protests from wildlife ac­tivists and oth­ers.

Re­mark­ably, the state for­est de­part­ment had failed to track down Avni (tagged T1), de­spite de­ploy­ing some 200 guards, paraglid­ers, 104 trap cam­eras, four ele­phants and two Ital­ian snif­fer dogs over the past two years. It had also req­ui­si­tioned the ser­vices of two sharp­shoot­ers—Shafat Ali Khan and his son As­gar.

In view of re­ports that Avni had killed and par­tially eaten 13 peo­ple be­tween June 2016 and Au­gust 2018, the state’s prin­ci­pal chief con­ser­va­tor of forests (PCCF) (wildlife) A. K. Mishra, on Septem­ber 4, had or­dered that the ti­gress could be killed if it wasn’t pos­si­ble to safely tran­quilise her. This was chal­lenged by tiger con­ser­va­tion­ist Jer­ryl Banait, but the Supreme Court later up­held the PCCF’s or­der.

Mun­gan­ti­war claimed that As­gar fired a sin­gle shot to fell the ti­gress when she charged the for­est de­part­ment team af­ter a dart failed to tran­quilise her. How­ever, an au­topsy re­vealed that the dart had not even punc­tured the an­i­mal’s skin. This in­stantly drew al­le­ga­tions that the dart was fired as a cover up af­ter the tiger had been killed.

The au­topsy re­port also re­vealed that Avni had not eaten for at least four to five days. The 119 kg ti­gress died due to ex­ces­sive in­ter­nal haem­or­rhage and car­dio-res­pi­ra­tory fail­ure. The gun­shot, fired from be­low the left side of the an­i­mal’s torso, pierced the shoul­der and punc­tured her lungs.

While wildlife lovers protested Avni’s killing in Mum­bai on No­vem­ber 11, res­i­dents in vil­lages fring­ing the forests in Ya­vat­mal cel­e­brated the beast’s death. Farm ac­tivist Kishor Ti­wari, who heads the state-

run-cor­po­ra­tion, Vas­antrao Naik Sheti Swavlam­ban Mis­sion, ac­cused Gandhi of be­ing against the trib­als of the area. “It has noth­ing to do with the tiger,” he said, in­sist­ing that the Union min­is­ter was rais­ing the is­sue only to help her spir­i­tual guru, Prema Sai, who is aspir­ing for a BJP ticket from Ya­vat­mal.

Mun­gan­ti­war has, mean­while, con­sti­tuted an ex­pert panel to de­ter­mine whether or not es­tab­lished pro­to­cols and stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures were fol­lowed. Chief Min­is­ter Deven­dra Fad­navis also rose to his min­is­ter’s de­fence, re­ject­ing calls for Mun­gan­ti­war’s res­ig­na­tion. Af­ter all, he said, the min­is­ter did not go down in per­son to kill the ti­gress.

But po­lit­i­cal ob­servers say this could also be an op­por­tu­nity for Fad­navis to cor­ner Mun­gan­ti­war, a known pro­tégé of Union trans­port min­is­ter Nitin Gad­kari. The for­est min­is­ter has stayed clear of any con­tro­versy till now, and is said to be keen to build an im­age as a fu­ture leader of Ma­ha­rash­tra.

CLAWS OUT Avni’s body with the dart stuck in it

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