Minister erred but CZA non-committal on action

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Minister erred but CZA non-committal on action

Vijay Pinjarkar, TNN 23 August 2009, 05:11am IST

NAGPUR: Brij Raj Sharma, member-secretary of Central Zoo Authority (CZA), on Saturday admitted that Maharashtra agriculture minister Balasaheb Thorat committed a mistake by entering into the tiger cage and petting the animal in Maharajbagh Zoo but was non-committal on action against him. Sharma was in the city on the directives of Jairam Ramesh, minister of environment & forests, to probe the controversy involving Thorat, who violated Wildlife Protection Act (WPA) 1972 and CZA norms.

Talking to TOI, Sharma said Thorat erred by entering the tiger cage and also touching the wild cat. He indicated that it implied to teasing and handling of animal, which is strictly prohibited under Section 38J of the WPA. However, when asked whether the minister’s act implied invoking action under section 38J, Sharma was non-committal. He said any action will be decided at Delhi after submission of the report. “Mantriji ka dosh nahi hai (the minister is not wrong) as he (Thorat) did not want to get inside the cage.

In fact, there were some loose ends at the administration’s side and more than the minister, the zoo administration is responsible for it. The minister being on top in the hierarchy, inspected the zoo,” Sharma said. Earlier, Sharma visited the Maharajbagh Zoo at 9.45 am, where he spent almost two hours inspecting the enclosures and the place where the violation took place.

Later, he was closest with forest and zoo officials including N Rambabu, conservator of forest of Nagpur division, Gorewada zoo director A R Mande, Maharajbagh zoo incharge Dr S S Bawaskar and controller M M Damke. Sharma is learnt to have asked the zoo officials about the number of animals, enclosures, excess animals among other issues.

The CZA boss also expressed concern over the fact that forest department dumped animals for treatment and never paid money or either released these animals. Sources attending the close-door meeting said Damke washed off his hands from the controversy pleading ignorance about wildlife laws. He also tried to get away by saying he did not go inside the cage.

Rambabu is learnt to have pleaded the case of Dr Bawaskar as a committed vet who brought up the tiger cubs. Sharma also inquired about income and expenditure of the zoo and found that most of the zoo expenses related to feeding of animals. He found not much was spent on development. “If managing zoo is not in the mandate of Panjabrao Deshmukh Krishi Vidyapeeth (PDKV), it should hand it over to the forest department or NMC or NIT,” Sharma said. However, Damke was not ready to take up this suggestion.

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