SAWAI MADHOPUR/NEW DELHI, NOVEMBER 18 :In early august when Parliament was debating a Bill to save the tiger, were two tigers quietly killed and skinned by poachers in Ranthambhore?
This could very well be the first question that lands on the table of the Tiger Conservation Authority, the statutory body set up under the new law passed by Parliament on August 25.
At the heart of the controversy is a shocking confession apparently made by Mangi Lal Moghiya, a 56-year-old with a poaching history-sheet, arrested by Forest Department officials on September 15. A confession that Field Director M L Meena says he’s not aware of.
However, top official sources have told The Sunday Express that Mangi Lal, who was picked up in connection with old poaching incidents, stunned his interrogators when he claimed that on the full-moon night of Rakhee Purnima (August 8), an eight-member gang from Raghunathpura village adjacent to Kuno wildlife sanctuary in Shoepur district of Madhya Pradesh came to Sawai Madhopur with guns, foot traps and snares.
They poached two tigers in the core Berda area of the Ranthambhore reserve, Mangi Lal is learnt to have said. Ranthambhore, one of the worst-hit reserves, is believed to be left with only a dozen adult tigers.
Mangi Lal, sources said, went on to give elaborate details: the gang was led by one Kokiya and included Kokiya’s brothers Terpal and Babu, Ambalal, Makhan Singh, Moher Singh. Ramji Lal, cousin of Devi Singh who was arrested last November for killing five tigers here, was also in the gang. At least one tiger skin was awaiting “best price” in a hideout at Raghunathpura until late October, sources said. “I am very disturbed over the poaching reports,” Rajesh Gopal, member-secretary of the Tiger Conservation Authority told The Sunday Express tonight. “I am also aware of the contradictory claims coming out of there. If any forest official suppressed facts, there will be stern action.”
Gopal said he would ask Rajasthan’s Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Field Director Meena for details. “I will also tell Himmat Negi (DFO, Kuno, from where the gang is supposed to have come) to gather intelligence from Raghunathpura village. But the trend highlights the immediate need to rehabilitate the traditional hunting communities. We have to strengthen protection but the local communities must be employed in patrolling, Gopal said.
For the record, Meena says: “I don’t know about any such confession. We have arrested a few poachers in connection with old cases. There has been no poaching inside the park in recent times.” He may have some explaining to do, not only to the TCA but to the police as well. “There are enough indications to believe that some action occurred in Ranthambhore during August,” said Sameer Singh, Additional SP, Bharatpur, CID, who grilled Mangi Lal after he was handed over to the police by Meena’s team. “But Mangi Lal only gave us some names of Moghiya hunters who came from Madhya Pradesh. Since he did not confess to knowing about any tiger killing, I have asked for the report of the interrogation conducted by the forest department.”
Meena’s deputy R S Sekhawat, who joined duty last Monday after a month-long leave, said his staff had already arrested three local Moghiyas based on Lal’s confession. He took charge last November after his predecessor was shunted out following the arrest of a gang of poachers who killed 11 tigers among them. Earlier this year, Shekhawat surprised many in Jaipur by openly calling for several urgent measures to save the remaining tigers of Ranthambhore. Soon, Meena was posted as the Field Director in July.
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