The big cat, officially known as T1, was shot dead in an operation in a forest in Yavatmal district on November 2, leading to outrage among animal lovers and wildlife organisations who accused the state government of violating norms.
The state government on Friday constituted a four-member committee, comprising wildlife experts and officials, for an “in-depth” probe into the killing of the tigress. Senior BJP leader and state Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said the state government is willing to form another panel under Thackeray’s leadership, if he so desires.
The committee is headed by Principal Chief Conservator of Forest S H Patil and includes Wildlife Institute of India member Habib Bilal, Wildlife Conservation Trust chairman Anish Andheriya and Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest Nitin Kakodkar. It will probe if established protocols and standard operating procedures were followed in the case and submit a report to the government.
In a statement, Thackeray demanded that a panel be formed under a retired judge to probe Avni’s killing. “Those who had given ‘supari’ (contract) to kill the tigress have been made members of the (probe) committee. The committee is a farce,” Thackeray alleged.
Taking a swipe at senior ally BJP, Thackeray said if Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis backed state Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar saying he could not be held responsible for the killing, why did Prime Minister Narendra Modi take credit for the surgical strike conducted in September 2016 to destroy terror camps, when the PM had not conducted it himself.
However, Mungantiwar said if Thackeray felt the committee is a “farce”, then the state government is willing to form another panel under the Sena chief’s leadership. “Uddhav ji is an important figure in the BJP-Sena alliance. If he does not want to head a committee under him, he should realise I have already asked the chief minister to appoint a committee under retired Supreme Court judges,” Mungantiwar said. “Lowest level of politics is unnecessarily being played over the issue,” the forest minister added.
Reacting to Mungantiwar’s comments, Sena MLC and spokesperson Neelam Gorhe said she has requested Chief Minister Fadnavis to constitute a committee under the chairmanship of Thackeray as the Sena chief has “in-depth” knowledge of tigers and forests.
“If a committee is appointed under him, he will bring the truth out. However, the decision has to be taken by the chief minister and not Sudhir Mungantiwar, who is himself in the dock over allegations against him,” Gorhe said.
Earlier, Union minister Maneka Gandhi had lashed out at the state government over Avni’s killing and dubbed it a “ghastly murder”. Avni was the mother of two 10-month-old cubs.
The Maharashtra government, however, defended the killing, calling the incident “sad” but necessary after the tigress had attacked forest staff trying to tranquilise it. The opposition NCP also dubbed the inquiry an “eyewash”.
Asked about the opposition’s criticism, Mungantiwar had said he had written to Gandhi, asking for an independent probe by Supreme Court judges into the killing of Avni. “This inquiry (by SC judges) will happen when it has to happen, but the state government has to probe the issue at the earliest,” he had said.