Sharpshooter Shafath Ali Khan, who was entrusted with the job of hunting down man-eating tigress Avni, said he was contemplating legal action against Union Cabinet minister Maneka Gandhi for allegedly levelling defamatory and wild charges against him over the state- and court-approved killing of the big cat, PTI has reported.
Khan pointed out that his son, Asgar Ali, and his four-member team were issued an authorisation letter by the Maharashtra forest department to carry out the operation and the tigress was shot at in “self-defence” while they were trying to tranquilise it.
The tigress, officially identified as T1, was believed to have mauled and killed 13 people in the last two years.
It was killed on 2 November by Ali in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district as part of an operation. The big cat has left behind two 10-month-old cubs.
Khan said on 2 November that the tigress had attacked their open-top vehicle at lightning speed, despite being shot with the tranquiliser.
“…there could have been two-three deaths had she mauled someone in the vehicle. At that point of time, my son took out the barrel, pointed it towards her and shot her…there was no plan to kill her. It unfolded so fast…it was fired totally in self-defence,” he added.
Khan said shooting an animal in self-defence was not an offence according to section 11(2) of the Wildlife Protection Act. According to him, even the Supreme Court was clear on the matter — “tranquilise T1, failing which, eliminate her by shooting to prevent any further human deaths”.
In a series of tweets on Sunday, Maneka Gandhi launched a scathing attack on the Maharashtra government for giving orders to kill the tigress, despite opposition from several stakeholders. The minister, who also doubles up as an animal right activist, in particular lambasted Maharashtra Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar for hiring private marksmen, Khan and his son, to carry out hunting operations in the state, including the killing of Avni. Maneka Gandhi alleged that Khan had killed three tigers, at least 10 leopards, elephants and 300 wild boar in Chandrapur in eastern Maharashtra.
Mungantiwar hit back at the Union Cabinet minister and said that she "lacks information" on the issue and was free to order a high-level probe. Mungantiwar, a senior leader in Maharashtra BJP, pointed out that Khan was tasked with shooting a tiger in Maneka Gandhi's Pilibhit Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh in 2009 (Gandhi's son Varun Gandhi was representing the constituency in 2009).
"Hyderabad-based sharpshooter Shafat Ali Khan was given a certificate of appreciation by the principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF) of Pilibhit for killing a tiger," he told reporters at Mantralaya here.
Mungantiwar said Khan's name was registered with the governments of nine states to carry out such operations. "Maneka Gandhiji has used the most derogatory comments against the state government, which has lowered the morale of the forest officials. I will write to her and ask her to use national or international agencies to probe the issue and I ensure my cooperation," he added.
He claimed that Maharashtra's tiger count had gone up by around 25 per cent in the last four years due to various initiatives of the state government since he took charge as forest minister. Mungantiwar said he acknowledged Gandhi's love for animals.
"She is the minister for women and child development. (However) I have to consider the women and children who have been killed by the tigress," he said. Mungantiwar said orders to capture the tigress were issued after she had killed five people.
(With inputs from PTI)