Photo by Handout / MAHARASHTRA FOREST DEPARTMENT / AFP
Photo by Handout / MAHARASHTRA FOREST DEPARTMENT / AFP

Mumbai: Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) members and other activists have alleged the state forest minister Sudhir Mungantiwar is part of a ‘forest land mafia’ and have demanded a judicial probe into the ‘fake encounter’ in which the tigress Avni (T1) was killed on November 2.

“There is a nexus between the Congress and the BJP, because of which 465 hectares were given to Anil Ambani’s Reliance Cementation Pvt Ltd, at a cost of  Rs. 40 crore. It means Mungantiwar is the forest land mafia, selling forest land to corporates for profit,” alleged Preeti Sharma Menon, AAP spokesperson.

Dr PV Subramanian, member of Earth Brigade Foundation, termed the inquiry committee by the ministry of environment and forests as a ‘farce’, and has demanded a judicial probe. “The inquiry committee appointed is unacceptable, as it strangely includes a member of an NGO, the Wildlife Trust of India. WTI was completely complicit in the killing of Avni and it is ludicrous they will probe their own operation. There are no subject matter experts or judicial members in the farcical panel,” said Dr Subramanian.

“There should be one inquiry committee and it should be led by a judge (not from Maharashtra), a veterinary expert, a forensic expert, a ballistic expert and other subject matter experts of a stature who can opine on ministerial oversight,” Dr Subramanian suggested.

Meanwhile, the activists have also demanded that a team should be called from another state to rescue Avni’s cubs, who have not eaten for the last 13 days. “We have come together to demand the rescue of Avni’s cubs. Since the Maharashtra Forest dept has shown lack of capability and empathy, a team be called from another state to complete this mission,” added Menon.

Definition of a man-eater
According to the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), a tiger must come out of its own territory into human settlement and prey on humans, kill and eat their flesh habitually, to be labelled a man-eater. Avni never left her own territory and there were long intervals between the alleged kills (she reportedly killed 13 people in the last two years), ruling out habitual behaviour.

There are seven tigers in this zone and all the killings appear to be chance encounters. The foolish use of hand-gliders, dogs, perfumes and other animals as bait, defies all norms. Night-hunting, that too without a veterinarian, is a clear case of hunting and poaching and cannot be termed as government effort.

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