NAGPUR: A team of Melghat forest officials netted nine tiger poachers from Pune in the wee hours of Sunday. Among those arrested were prize catch Luchi and veteran poacher Lupustan.
Sources said a forest department team led by deputy conservator of forests (DyCF) Jitendra Ramgaonkar had left for Pune on Friday after getting a tip off. They were also following the call detail records (CDRs) of the poachers.
The team zeroed in on the poachers from Bahelia tribe near Baner Fata on Pune-Mumbai Expressway in the wee hours of Saturday and nabbed them. The raid was supervised by Pune CCF Jeet Singh himself. Singh and Ramgaonkar did not respond to repeated calls on Monday.
According to Pune forest officials, coincidentally, the Wildlife Protection Society of India (WPSI), a NGO working in wildlife enforcement, had given an alert on Tuesday about presence of poachers at Baner Fata.
Nitin Desai, Central India director of WPSI, said, “I had alerted the forest department but I’m not sure whether the poachers were nabbed because of the WPSI alert. But it is a positive development. Such actions against poachers will deter them from entering Maharashtra,” said Desai.
The forest officials have seized spears used to kill tigers from the gang. The poachers were brought to Paratwada on Sunday and produced in the court at Paratwada on Monday. All gang members were granted forest custody remand (FCR) till August 16. The gang will be brought to Nagpur in a day or two.
“Our team was on the trail of the gang based on their mobile CDRs. Earlier, the team had been to Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh and Parali Vaijnath in Beed district of Marathwada, but could not trace the poachers. Of the nine arrested, two are women and seven men,” said SWH Naqvi, principal chief conservator of forests (wildlife), Maharashtra, on Monday.
Naqvi did not reveal the names of the poachers, but said they were wanted in connection with the killing of a tiger and bear at Masondi in Ghatang (East Melghat) in May.
Sources said those nabbed include dreaded veteran poacher Lupustan and his son Luchi, who are in the list of 27 poachers wanted by Melghat officials.
Luchi is said to have been directly involved in not only killing tigers but also selling their skin and body parts to agents in North India. His call details are expected to prove crucial. The gang was allegedly selling medicinal herbs in Pune. However, a section of forest officials said they were involved in sandalwood smuggling also.
When forest minister Patangrao Kadam was asked what steps his ministry was taking to stop tiger poaching, he admitted, “I’m not satisfied with what is being done. Although CBI will take over the poaching probe soon, there is a need to take more effective steps to curb the menace. It’s a continuous process.”
Meanwhile, the magisterial custody of other poachers, Siri, Mamru, Chika, Yarlen and Barsul, was extended by judicial magistrate first class (JMFC) RB Raja till August 17. Following strong arguments by forest department counsel Kartik Shukul, the bail pleas of three poachers, Siri, Yarlen and Barsul, were rejected.
On Monday, the MCR of two brothers Parman and Soberam Sawalkar of Masondi, Melghat, was extended till August 17. The bail application of both will be decided on Tuesday. Shukul argued against granting of bail to Parman.
Both were not directly involved in killing the Ghatang tiger, but were involved with the poachers. In another development, FCR of Mamru, Barsul and Yarlen in Akot tiger case has been extended till August 14.
Muttemwar demands Rs 400 crore for anti-poaching activities
The issue of poaching of tigers in the region was raised in the Lok Sabha by Congress MP Vilas Muttemwar on Monday. He demanded Rs 400 crore to strengthen security in and around the parks with tigers. He said organized poachers have killed at least 337 tigers in the country in the last 10 years. “Despite Rs 600 crore released for tiger conservation in the last four years, effective monitoring, patrolling and wildlife enforcement is in a sorry state. Around 25 tigers must have been targeted in Vidarbha alone,” said Muttemwar. The MP reiterated his demand to declare Nagpur as the tiger capital.