Type ‘Tiger conservation in India’ in your Google search and you’ll see a plethora of articles within a second. Wikipedia states that the Tiger Conservation Project was taken up as early as in the year 1972 and thereby introducing the Wildlife Protection Act.
45 years down, Project Tiger went on to become one of the most successful conservation ventures in modern history. At least, according to the Wikipedia.
But like many other policies, the tiger conservation project too gives an impression of a mere promise on paper. The rules, the guidelines, the consent-seeking etc seems like nothing but a formality of having a framework. For ultimately, the authorities decisions overrule every rule and protocol listed therein.
Wednesday morning may have been just another morning for all of us. But for Dr Jerryl Banait, it was a morning when his nightmare came true.
A doctor by profession, Jerryl is also a wildlife enthusiast. His affinity toward the creatures in the wild started when he was a kid and has only grown with time. He is actively engaged in wildlife protection and conservation, even going to the extent of providing medical help, etc from time to time. Four months ago, on one such regular day, he came across Kismat.
Kismat was the name of a 20-month-old Sub Adult Tigress T27-C1.
Was? Yes. Kismat’s fate was met with a heartrending demise, lessening the tiger count by one.
The tigress was classified as a ‘man-eater’ four months back only because of the chance encounters she had which led her to kill a couple of human beings. The authorities labelled her one without following the standard procedure of ensuring of correctly establishing her identity as per the guidelines of The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
The frequent yet uncalled-for orders of shoot-at-sight were quashed by Jerryl. And just when he was about to rescind the fourth order by approaching the Supreme Court, he gets to news of Kismat succumbing to death by electrocution.
Even though the official document lists the cause of death as electrocution, Jerryl is not satisfied with the chronology of the events.
Distressed but determined to find answers to plenty of questions that arose in the last four months of Kismat’s journey, Jerryl speaks to Reacho Nagpur:
Jerryl, please tell us how did it all start?
It all started about 4 months back when she had two chance encounters wherein the human beings were killed in the jungle. After the incident, she was labeled as a man-eater without conducting any procedures of establishing her correct identity. As a human being myself, I feel very sad for those individuals who died in the attack. The next thing I know is a shoot at sight order being issued. Just because a tiger is being a problem, do you just simply shoot it? What about the conservation and the various projects about it?!
What did you do when you heard about the orders?
The first shoot-at-sight order jolted me. I still wanted to keep the Tigress T27-C1 alive and bring her to captive. I approached the High Court and filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with a plea to tranquilize her and keep her in captivity. I also objected in the base petition for the appointment of a private hunter to be a part of this operation.
Was the plea accepted?
Yes, the High Court allowed the plea and rescinded the order to kill her on sight. Ultimately she was successfully tranquilized and brought to Gorewada Rescue Center, Nagpur
Eventually, a high-level panel consisting of senior forest officials, wildlife experts, veterinarians etc decided to release her back in the wild into the Bor Reserve Forest. She was found adjusting well to her natural surroundings.
Is this where the electrocution took place?
No. Within 50 days, Kismat was found migrating. She was very swift and intelligent and travelled more than 500kms in approx 25 days and came back to Bor. That showed she had started developing homing instincts.
Unfortunately, during this time two more chance encounters took place, resulting in the second shoot-at-sight orders. I had to approach the High Court again to rescind the orders.
What happened next?
Within 3 days, another fresh order was issued to shoot her at sight. I had to go to the High Court yet again to put a stay on it but did not succeed this time around. The High Court upheld it on the subjective satisfaction of the PCCF. I did not step back and approached for the fourth time.
Unfortunately, the Division bench which was to take the case for review was not operating as one of the judges was unavailable. So, I had to request for constituting a special division bench, which under these circumstances was luckily constituted within a few hours. Our plea was declined at 5:30 pm and we had no other option but to move to Supreme Court.
Just when I was about to board my flight the next morning, I get the news of Kismat’s electrocution from my father.
Did you get a chance to cremate Kismat?
How I wish I did! I headed straight to Nawargaon where the Tigress was kept for post-mortem. There, I was not allowed to witness the procedure even though I am a doctor myself. They conducted the post-mortem and the cremation and all I got were the pictures.
Are you going to make any legal moves on Kismat’s electrocution?
I already have two more pleas in the High Court. One, on Jay’s whereabouts and the other, on electrocution of ___, Jay’s son. In the past couple of days, two more tigers are being electrocuted, in Gadchiroli and Chandrapur district. The electrocution of tigers is nothing less than those fake encounters of criminals. If this menace is not contained, can you imagine the drastic fall in the tiger population?
Jerryl Banait’s relentless efforts ended in dejection for not just him but for everyone who has done their bit for conserving the wildlife. It has also raised questions such as, ‘Why were the first shoot at sight orders passed without following NTCA guidelines and SOPs?’ or ‘How come the Electrocution marks are primarily on the side of her body and not her paws which is more likely that she might put on the wires?’.
You can read about Jerryl’s story on his Facebook timeline:
The ill-fated death of Kismat is not insignificant enough to be brushed under the carpet. Some questions need to be answered and some deaths need to meet justice.
Authorities, are you all listening?
Information source: Indian Express