Maharashtra Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar Monday hit back at Union minister Maneka Gandhi, who had slammed him for hiring private marksmen Shafat Ali Khan and his son Asgar Ali for carrying out hunting operations in the state, including the latest killing of a tigress.
A day after the Union women and child development minister lashed out at the Maharashtra government over the "ghastly murder" of the tigress, Mungantiwar said she "lacks information" on the issue and was free to order a high-level probe.
The tigress, officially known as T1, was believed to be responsible for the deaths of 13 people in the last two years.
It was shot dead by Ali in the Borati forest in Yavatmal district Friday.
The tigress left behind two 10-month-old cubs.
Mungantiwar, a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, claimed 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 forest (PCCF) of Pilibhit for killing a tiger," he told reporters at the Mantralaya here.
Mungantiwar hails from Chandrapur district.
"He (Shafat) is a criminal known for supplying guns to anti-nationals and for a suspected case of murder in Hyderabad," the Union minister had said in a tweet.
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 a letter to her and ask her to use national or international agencies to probe the issue and I ensure my cooperation," he added.
Mungantiwar said Gandhi was a "victim of lack of information".
"She could have spent 50 paise to call me up to ascertain the facts, instead of taking to the social media," he added.
"Instead of lodging a complaint with the chief minister, the Union minister can order a high-level inquiry into the incident by a Supreme Court judge or a committee of Supreme Court judges," Mungantiwar said.
Responding to Gandhi's charge that three tigers were killed on his orders in the past, Mungantiwar said neither he nor the forest secretary had the right to order such killings.
"The tigers were killed in 1995, 2006, 2013 and 2014. I was not a minister then," he added.
"After I took charge, there was one such case in 2017. Even then, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) guidelines were followed and the tiger was only tranquilised. Hence, this is only lack of information that such baseless charges are being levelled by our central leader," Mungantiwar said.
Seeking to justify the killing of T1, he said a tigress was beaten to death and run over by a vehicle in an Uttar Pradesh village Sunday, after it mauled just one person.
"Here, 13 persons were killed. We do not want tribals, farmers and villagers to turn enemies of wild animals. They are the ones who are actually helping in animal conservation," he said.
After the killing of T1 sparked an outrage, Gandhi came out with a series of tweets Sunday.
"It is nothing but a straight case of crime. Despite several requests from many stakeholders, (Sudhir) Mungantiwar, Minister for Forests, Maharashtra, gave orders for the killing," she had said in one of the tweets.
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.
But animal activists approached the Bombay High Court and obtained a stay, which resulted in the "man-eating" big cat killing more people, he added.
"The Forest department is not the enemy of the tigress. The animal was killed only after it attacked those trying to tranquilise her," Mungantiwar said.
He added that if there were criminal cases against Khan, then Gandhi, being a Union minister, could order his arrest.
Recently, several farmers in Yavatmal district in the Vidarbha region lost their lives due to inhalation of toxic pesticides, but no one was punished, the Uddhav Thackeray-led party, an ally of the BJP, said.
"We have not seen those responsible for the deaths (of the farmers) get any punishment like the tigress was punished for killing people," the Sena said in an editorial in party mouthpiece "Saamana".
The Marathi daily said the people in the state were dying due to lack of water, malnutrition, government policies and debt traps, but the administration had never been termed a "carnivore".
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)