By Vijay Pinjarkar
In a stunning revelation, tiger skin trader Sarju Bagdi alias Suraj Bhan (28) told TOI on Thursday that four gangs of poachers and traders were simultaneously operating in a 150km radius of Nagpur. While he himself picked up 5 skins for trading, the others too had procured as many over a period of 8-9 months.
It means that poachers have killed not just 5 tigers as the forest department has been saying and not 11 as forest sources had told TOI but more than 20 as per the admission of Sarju. He was arrested in New Delhi on September 7 and brought to Nagpur by a morning flight on Thursday.
The state forest department has been consoling itself that of the 5 tiger poaching cases it is investigating, only 1 tiger was killed in Vidarbha (Masondi in Melghat). Sarju's revelation could have a deep impact of the working of the entire forest force in the state and the country too. In the corporate world, a few heads would have rolled.
Sarju spoke to TOI outside the court where he was produced and was sent to forest custody till September 21 after strong arguments by Kartik Shukul, the special counsel for forest department. "Main to sirf 5 maal le gaya, baki ka Dalbir aur Kalla le gaye (I procured only 5 tiger skins, Dalbir and Kalla took away remaining skins from here," he said.
According to Sarju, at least four syndicates of tiger skin traders from Haryana and Delhi have been working in Central India forests. They include Ranjit Singh Bawaria, who is wanted in the Dhakna tiger poaching in Melghat, Suraj Pal for whom Sarju is working, Dalbir and Kalla, all from Haryana.