Forest staff helped poachers in Panna Tiger Reserve: report

This resulted in wiping out of tiger population in the reserve in 2008

The forest staff at the Panna Tiger Reserve was working in close nexus with the poachers and this ultimately led to the big cat disappearing from the area in 2008, reveals an internal report of the Madhya Pradesh forest department.



The confidential report prepared after an inquiry was ordered into the cases of poaching in the reserve from 1989 to 2010, says that the staff, from forest guard to sub divisional officer level employees actively tried to destroy evidence of poaching incidents and suppressed the cases of tiger deaths during the period.

A confidential report found that the Panna Tiger Reserve staff, from forest guard to SDO-level, actively tried to destroy the evidence of poaching and suppress the cases of tiger deaths
The report found that of the total 19 poaching cases that occurred during 1989-2010, six took place in 2005 alone
The undetected poaching cases may go up to three digits per year
 

The report was submitted by field director of the reserve, R Sreenivasa Murthy, to the Chief Wildlife Warden of the state, H S Pabla, in February this year. It has been accessed by the Bhopal-based activist Ajay Dubey through an application under Right to Information.

The report found out that of the total 19 poaching cases between 1989 and 2010, six took place in 2005 alone. Five of these six cases were not registered by the then forest staff of the reserve. These were only the known poaching cases and the actual number of cases may go up to three digits per year, says the report. “The period between 2002-07 was turbulent for the tigers and other animals of Panna where the establishment of Panna, at least at the range/sub-divisional level of Chandranagar range and Madla sub-division, tried to suppress the cases,” Murthy noted in his letter to Pabla with the report.

The report says that many articles, memos, documents and office records were seized from the range forest offices in the reserve which points towards the complicity of the forest staff concerned in these cases. For instance, two unaccounted metal traps were seized during the investigation from the range office of Chandranagar. “With staff’s omissions and commissions, the crime nexus is complete from the scene of crime (Panna) to (the well known poacher) Sansarchand and his network in Delhi, including nomadic poaching communities, local tribes and influential people and the middle level traders like Mohammed Rise and Nawab Khan,” said the report.

To further investigate the matter, Murthy has recommended to the government that a high powered special investigation team (SIT) be constituted. “This herculean task may not be singly possible for the establishment of present field director, Panna Tiger Reserve. And such an action will also invite lot of criticism and allegations from the alleged officers of omission and commission of that time. Hence, it is strongly recommended that an SIT be constituted immediately to investigate the poaching issues and the nexus between the tiger reserve establishment and the poachers, and the omissions and commissions of forest officers as a cause of decimation of tigers at Panna,” Murthy further stated in the letter.

The forest department, however, seems to have little interest in the findings. When asked about the recommendations of Murthy’s report, Pabla said no action has been taken on them. “We are verifying the facts in the report. All the cases mentioned in the report are old, dating back to 1980’s. Most of them are either decided or under the consideration of the court. We did not find much substance in them,” Pabla says.

State resists CBI inquiry Since the loss of all the tigers were confirmed in Panna in 2009, the state government has been resisting fixing of accountability. An inquiry conducted by the centrally-appointed SIT came to the conclusion that the tigers were not lost due to ecological reasons but were mostly killed. It recommended a CBI enquiry into it.

The MP government, however, did not initiate CBI enquiry. It rather set up its own enquiry committee which concluded in 2010 that gender imbalance in the tiger population of the reserve made the males go looking for females outside the reserve, only to be poached. It said the forest department could not be held responsible for the loss because its jurisdiction ended within the park.

Dubey says the forest department is deliberately resisting the CBI inquiry. “The recent Murthy report clearly brings out the fact that the forest department was involved in the poaching of tigers. All the top bureaucrats who looked after the forest department when the Panna disaster happened are also at the top position in the government today. We cannot deny the possibility that they also had the connections with international poaching networks. A CBI enquiry is a must to unearth all this,” says Dubey.

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