As the controversial killing of tigress Avni in Maharashtra kicked up a row, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said Monday preliminary reports showed that the forest department team shot her in "self-defence" after it was attacked while trying to tranquilise the animal.
Fadnavis also said any procedural lapse in the incident will be probed even as Congress chief Rahul Gandhi and Union Environment minister Harsh Vardhan were locked in a spat over the killing of the 5-year-old tigress.
The tigress, officially as T1 and believed to be responsible for the deaths of 13 people in the past two years., was shot dead by sharp-shooter Asgar Ali in the Borati forest in Maharashtra's Yavatmal district Friday as part of an operation.
Fadnavis said preliminary reports made available to him stated that the tigress was shot after she attacked the forest staff trying to tranquilise her.
"There is no happiness over the killing. The forest department took the decision since she had killed 13 to 14 people. There are some doubts regarding whether the tigress was first shot and then the dart inserted, this aspect will be probed," he told reporters in Mumbai.
"We speak of increasing tiger population and conserving wildlife, and then unfortunately such a decision had to be taken. The tiger is a gentleman. He attacks only if his habitat is violated. Preliminary reports with me say the tigress attacked the forest department team and she was shot in self defence," the chief minister said.
"Hunter Asghar Ali was hired by the forest department. The doubts raised regarding the killing will be verified."
Asked to comment on Union Minister Maneka Gandhi's statements on the killing, Fadnavis said she had used "harsh words".
In a series of tweets on Sunday Gandhi said, "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 (Maneka) has used harsh words. But her sentiments should be understood. All animal lovers' sentiments are harsh regarding this incident. It was a difficult decision. Whether the procedure was correct or not will be checked," Fadnavis added.
"Instead of lodging a complaint with the chief minister, the union minister (Maneka Gandhi), if she wants, can order a high-level inquiry by a sitting Supreme Court judge or a committee of sitting Supreme Court judges," said Mungantiwar.
Vardhan said no previous union government has worked with the kind of "depth and seriousness" the current dispensation has, as he hit back at Rahul Gandhi over his barb at the Centre on the killing of the tigress.
The government does not need a certificate from Rahul Gandhi, Vardhan said.
He said a report has been sought by his ministry from the Maharashtra government.
Earlier on Monday, Rahul Gandhi tweeted,"The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated. Mahatma Gandhi #Avni."
"The central government does not need a certificate from Rahul Gandhi. The kind of seriousness, depth and honesty that the central government works with, I think no other prior government has done it like this," Vardhan said on the sidelines of an event in Delhi.
Asked if his ministry has sought a report, the Environment Minister said, "This is a natural process. Whenever there is any incident, a report comes to the department."
The killing of Avni, who is survived by her two cubs who are 10 months old, has also been criticised by animal and wildlife bodies.
Animal rights body PETA India said the killing should be investigated and treated as a wildlife crime, and termed it a "dark day" for the nation.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India said Avni was killed "illegally to satisfy a hunter's lust for blood", in contempt of court and in apparent violation of the Wildlife Protection Act.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)