Wildlife activist Ajay Dube obtains a highly confidential report under RTI

A “highly confidential” investigation report on tiger poaching filed by the Field Director (FD) of the Panna Tiger Reserve and handed over to the Madhya Pradesh Forest Department has brought the role of field officials in the reserve under the scanner.

The report, filed by Field Director R.S. Murthy to Chief Wildlife Warden H.S. Pabla, underscores the presence of a strong “poacher-official nexus,” running up to the dreaded New-Delhi poacher Sansarchand, who is allegedly behind the decreasing numbers of big cats in Panna.

All six tiger poaching cases in 2005 inside the reserve clearly had the collusion of the forest staff, from guards to sub-divisional officers and rangers, claims the report.

The report also admits lack of support from locals in the conservation of “our national honour [tiger]” and recommends taking the local people into confidence, “without whose sacrifice no Protected Area can boast of its existence.”

It also warns that unless the State Forest Department took cognizance of this fact and acted accordingly, the “reintroduced tigers and their progenies are not in a safe haven.”

The report, a copy of which is with The Hindu, was obtained by wildlife activist Ajay Dube under the Right to Information Act.

In the report, Mr. Murthy has indicted the forest staff for acting in collusion with local hunting communities such as the Pardhis and the Bahelias as well as with national and international poaching mafia by suppressing cases or not registering one at all.

To ensure “non-coercion” and “non-manipulation” of independent witnesses, the report recommends the transfer of the then (2002-2007) “Range Officers of the Chandranagar and Mandla ranges of the Reserve Panna Tiger Reserve.”

The report also recommends the constitution of a “Panna Tiger Reserve-High Power Special Investigation Team” to investigate the disappearance of tigers from the reserve from 2002-2007.

The team, the report claims, was necessary to investigate “poaching issues and the nexus between the reserve establishment and poachers, and omissions and commissions of forest officers as a cause of decimation of tigers at the Reserve,” as it was not possible for the office of the Field Director to investigate cases where a forest staff was involved.

“There were a lot of unsubstantiated claims made in the report and so we sent it back to the Field Director for review and reconsideration. Once it comes back, we will decide what needs to be done,” Chief Wildlife Warden H.S. Pabla told The Hindu.

On his part, Mr. Murthy stated in the report that, “all inferences are based on either material or documentary evidence” and if there were anomalies, he would “own full responsibility for such a lapse.”

“As per the directives from the headquarters, I have supplemented the report with statements from forest staff and officials, who have obviously denied the allegations, and will be sending it back soon,” he said.

“We had filed a PIL in the Madhya Pradesh High Court based on this report, but it was rejected on the grounds that the CBI was already overburdened with several other ongoing investigations,” said Mr. Dube.

“The Rajasthan High Court had ordered a CBI probe into the disappearance of tigers from the Sariska Tiger Reserve, which led to the arrest and conviction of poachers from Punjab. Since then, the National Tiger Conservation Authority has been recommending a similar CBI probe in the case of Panna but the State government has shown absolutely no interest. That is because two very senior officers in the government and the Forest Department, who were in charge of Panna during 2002-07, are liable to be questioned if a CBI probe is ordered,” he added.

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