By Vijay Pinjarkar
Forest minister Patangrao Kadam on Thursday chose to ignore queries on fixing responsibility on senior forest officials in poaching of tigers this year, but his aides insist that ordering CBI probe in poaching was his masterstroke to make forest officials work.
Even after the state government issued a notification in August handing over tiger poaching probe to CBI, the investigating agency has not yet started a probe. During this period, around 30 poachers have been arrested by the forest department.
"Ordering a CBI probe was a masterstroke by Kadam to put officials on their toes. They (officials) nabbed so many poachers out of the fear that if CBI intervenes, they would be in trouble," sources close to Kadam told TOI on Friday evening.
The poaching probe gained momentum only after a CBI probe was announced, they said. This can be true, as for the past two months officials have just been diplomatically saying that the CBI was collecting papers.
Though Kadam was mum on action against officials, he said the department has drawn up a plan to check poaching menace. "I agree that poaching problem cannot be eliminated overnight, but steps like increasing patrolling in non-protected areas, intelligence gathering and improving living conditions for field staff, like good quarters, better health facilities and education for kids will be taken up, so that staff stay at the headquarters," said Kadam.
He added that Rs 3-4 crore annual budget for quarters and staff welfare will be kept aside. A CAMPA committee has been set for this. Development of such facilities has already started in sensitive Gadchiroli, Chandrapur and Thane districts.
Principal secretary (forests) Praveen Pardeshi said increasing number of offences in tiger poaching will mean inviting more poachers to the region. Even if 30-40 tigers were poached, after detection by officials poachers are now avoiding Maharashtra and are being traced to other states, he said.
However, sources said many poachers involved in the crimes at Melghat were nabbed from Pune. Even now there are many Baheliya camps near Pune.
Kadam did not give much weightage to Gorewada zoo project, whose cost has escalated to a point of no return, but said the rescue centre will come up. He also said a MoU has been signed between MAFSU and FDCM to set up a wildlife veterinary research centre at Gorewada.
Earlier in the day, Kadam reviewed progress of irrigation projects stuck for forest land diversion. Two days ago, water resources minister Sunil Tatkare had blamed the Congress for these stalled projects.
However, Kadam said since 1980, when Forest Conservation Act (FCA) came into force, 15,120 hectare forest land has been diverted for 218 irrigation projects in Vidarbha. This is 43.62% as compared to diversion of land in other parts of the state.