Mumbai Congress says minister linked to ‘global poaching mafia’

Mumbai,   Upping its aggressive stance, Mumbai Congress on Saturday accused Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar of links with the international poaching mafia and sought his arrest and dismissal from the cabinet.

The minister has strongly refuted the charge, saying he would file a defamation suit against city Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam.

Nirupam claimed that in 2014, 14 tigers died, 16 in 2016 and 21 in 2017, proving that the national animal is “unsafe” with Mungantiwar heading the ministry in the state.

“The number of tiger deaths in 2017 was the second highest in the state after Madhya Pradesh. It is highly possible that Mungantiwar could be in nexus with the international poaching mafia,” alleged Nirupam.

Immediately hitting back, Mungantiwar said that by linking his name with global poachers, the Congress leader was intentionally “ruining” the country’s image before the world community.

“In my tenure, only one tigress (Avni) has been killed, that too, as per the Supreme Court orders. Nirupam is wrongly dragging all other natural deaths of tigers as if the creature is immortal. I shall file a defamation case against him in the Chandrapur court,” the minister warned.

Addressing mediapersons on Saturday, Nirupam said that despite the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA)’s directives to intall an e-surveillance system in every tiger reserve in the country, Mungantiwar has conveniently refrained from doing so repeatedly in Maharashtra.

“The state floated its tender in August 2016 and even after bids were received, the tender was scrapped,” Nirupam said, producing the tender invitation documents.

“In March 2017, another tender was issued and it met the same fate after two months. However, all other states where tiger reserves are located have installed e-surveillance, barring Maharashtra,” Nirupam said.

The Congress leader pointed out that when the e-surveillance system was installed as a pilot in Chandrapur’s Chanda Tiger Reserve, Mungantiwar himself praised it saying it could easily track a tiger’s movement as well as poaching activities.

Speaking about the two probe panels which have kicked up a fresh controversy, animal activist and actress Rupali Ganguly said they comprise people from the government who could be “biased”.

“We demand a committee comprising forest officers, forensic and cyber experts, veterinarians and shooters to be part of the committee to ensure a fair probe and check the inconsistencies in the information provided so far,” Ganguly said.

Animal activists Priyanka Timmins, Anupama Mukherjee and Bharat Sharma announced that a ‘Global March’ will be held in Mumbai on Sunday afternoon from Worli to Shivaji Park for highlighting Avni’s killing.