Maharashtra Legislature witnesses light moments amid discussion on tigers

Nagpur: After much political heat last week, the winter session of Maharashtra Legislature today witnessed some light moments when a member asked if there was a rise in tiger population in the state forests after megastar Amitabh Bachchan was made the tiger ambassador.

The Lower House was filled with laughter when Forest Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar was replying to a question on tigers and man-animal conflict.

Chhagan Bhujbal of NCP rose to ask if there was any rise in the population of male or female tigers after actor Amitabh Bachhan was appointed as tiger ambassador.

Mungantiwar then said in a lighter vein that the government was considering appointing a one-man committee headed by Bhujbal to find out the exact position of tigers in the forests.

The state government today reiterated its commitment for conserving tigers in the state and said the forest department has equipped its staff with firearms and devices (wireless, walky-talky, night vision gadgets) to save the tigers from being killed by poachers.

Mungantiwar said the government was contemplating to enhance the penalty amount for poaching tigers from Rs 25,000 to Rs 5 lakhs and jail term from seven years to 10 years.

Replying to Varsha Gaikwad (Congress), Gulabrao Patil (PWP) and others during Question Hour, he informed the House that 12 tigers were poached during last three years, while 16 died natural death and six met with accidents.

Giving the break up, he said as many as seven tigers died a natural death in 2012, five in 2013 and four last year. Besides, three felines met with accident in 2012, two in 2013 and one in 2014. He also informed that three tigers were poached in 2012, seven in 2013 and two were poached last year.

The minister admitted that tigers and leopards were entering the human habitats and there were some reports of man-animal conflict. He said the forest department was trapping the tigers in cages in the man-animal conflict zone and later releasing them in deep forests.

However, Mungantiwar rejected a member's suggestion that stray dogs from cities be transported to deep forests as prey for the tigers. He said it was not possible as the stray dogs may carry infections from the city to forest, and also nowhere dogs were considered as prey for tigers.

Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil (Congress) said that international gangs of poachers were operating in the forests of the state.

The minister informed the House that a Special Tiger Protection Force of the Central government was operating in the state to protect the carnivores. He said the state forest department has equipped its staff with firearms, wireless set, night vision gadgets, walkie talkies, camera traps and towers to curb poaching activities. It has also formed an intelligence unit to keep a track of poachers.

The state is setting up two 'Leopard Safaris' in the state, one at Borivali in Mumbai and another in Chandrapur, he added.

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