A report by a State-level committee set up by the Maharashtra government to probe the killing of tigress T1 aka Avni in Yavatmal district in November last, has recommended strong action under the Wildlife Protection Act and the Indian Arms Act against city-based hunter Asghar Ali Khan who shot the tigress dead.
In its report, the six-member committee that includes the current Maharashtra Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, concluded that the plea of killing T1 as an “act of self-defence or defence of other persons… is not applicable in this case. His action has to be investigated under the Wildlife Protection Act, Arms Act 1959 and the NDPS (Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances) Act 1985.”
However, confounding the situation and complicating the case was a clean chit given to Asghar Ali Khan by VS Sarpe, a Forest Development Corporation of Maharashtra (FDCM) official who was appointed the investigation officer by FDCM as the killing of the tigress had occurred in forest area under its jurisdiction. Sarpe, in a communication to the Hyderabad city police, said investigations into the case were completed and it had been closed after resolving all issues. Sarpe had also said that Asghar Ali Khan did not violate any provisions of the Wildlife Protect or the Arms Acts.
It may be recalled that soon after killing T1, Asghar Ali Khan had sought refuge under the plea of self defence saying that he had no option but to shoot the tigress dead as it was charging at him and others as soon as it was darted by one of his team members, all of them who were seated in a Gypsy vehicle.
The committee comprised Nitin Kakodkar, the current Maharashtra PCCF, Dr Ullas Karanth, one of the foremost tiger researchers in India, Dr Parag Nigam and Dr Bilal Habib from Wildlife Institute of India, Dr Anish Andheria from Wildlife Conservation Trust and Dr SH Pati, PCCF (Production), Maharashtra Forest Department.It its exhaustive 33-page report, the committee listed several lapses and violations of laws and rules, including carrying out search operations in the night in the Pandharkawda forest area where T1 was moving about by teams of Asghar Ali Khan and his father Shafat Ali Khan “on their own accord without any consultation” with local forest department officials.
As was found by a committee of the National Tiger Conservation Authority that also probed the killing of the tigress, the State Committee too found that the claims of the tigress charging at Asghar and his team after being darted and that Asghar was forced to shoot the animal in self defence, were untenable. As per Asghar’s claims, the tigress was darted by forester Mukhbir Sheikh from a distance of 12 metres and it turned and charged at them.The tigress, the committee said, as per Asghar and his team’s confessions, was in the middle of a road and after a tranquiliser hit it, it would have had ample time to move away, “even if it ambled slowly.” Had the tiger been only 12 metres away when darted, it should have been closer to the vehicle than claimed by Asghar had it really charged, the team concluded.
The committee said that while Asghar said he was not the team leader, the others in the team that night contradicted this claim saying that he was the one who was leading the team. It also found severe fault with Asghar for not depositing the gun used to kill T1, the spent shell case and the darting gun with the forest department officials immediately.
“Asghar Ali Khan had never personally carried out a tiger darting/shooting prior to this shooting or tigress T1, thus rendering him incapable” of taking decisions under the circumstances, the report said.It also said Asghar’s narrative of the tigress’ behaviour of roaring and charging at the Gypsy he was in was at odds with known tiger behaviour and any risk to the vehicle’s occupants was remote.