Aarey forest officials work out of 10x15 container with no toilet

Feb 08, 2014, 12:38 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

Patrolling team claims makeshift accommodation lacks restroom, forcing them to venture out into the jungle to answer nature’s call; proposed 24-hour leopard rescue centre still not a reality

Three months after the Thane Forest Department (TFD) was promised a 1,000-sq ft plot to set up a leopard rescue centre in the Aarey Milk Colony, there has been no development on the issue. The decision to provide the space for setting up a 24 -hour rescue centre was announced in a meeting between the TFD, Aarey Milk Colony authorities and the local MLA in October.

The container cabin, located at unit V near Aarey Market, next to the Aarey Road, is currently being used by the TFD team as a makeshift accommodation
The container cabin, located at unit V near Aarey Market, next to the Aarey Road, is currently being used by the TFD team as a makeshift accommodation

The team patrolling the colony currently operates from a container cabin set up by TFD, located at unit V near Aarey Market, next to the Aarey Road. The TFD team complained that in the absence of a proper shelter, it has to travel from Thane, which is over 15 km away from the colony whenever it is alerted about a leopard attack.

Speaking to MiD DAY, Aarey Milk Colony CEO Ashok Jadhav said, “We have provided the TFD team with space for a makeshift cabin, but the decision to give them 1,000 sq ft of area to build a permanent rescue centre will be taken by the Aarey Dairy Manager, as the area (Vasava Building) where the forest department wants to set up the centre falls under their (Aarey Dairy) jurisdiction. As per my knowledge, the proposal has already been sent to the government for approval.”

A pigeonhole
The TFD team said lack of adequate accommodation facilities was inconveniencing them, as they had to go back to Thane after the previous night’s patrolling. The 10x15 container cabin can accommodate only two people and even lacks a washroom. Moreover, the patrolling team is forced to keep the cages outside the cabin, so that they can be shifted to spots to trap leopards.

A team member said, “Everyone expects us to reach the spot immediately, but people are unaware of the fact that we have to travel all the way from Thane every time we receive a call regarding a man-animal conflict or a spotting. The makeshift accommodation lacks washroom. So every time we have to answer nature’s call in the night, we are forced to leave the safety of the cabin. This puts us at risk because leopards are mostly nocturnal.”

More than two weeks ago, the residents of Khadak pada illegally trapped a sub-adult male leopard. They used a cage that was lying unattended in the village for the last several months. It took the TFD team over an hour to reach the spot where the animal was captured. “Had there been a proper rescue centre in Aarey, we would have reached Khadak pada in less than 5 minutes,” a TFD official said.

Official speaks
Chief Conservator of Forest (Territorial) Thane K P Singh said, “Currently, we have a temporary container cabin, which is hardly of any use. We need a proper office. For this to happen, the (Aarey) authorities should provide us with the space promised at the earliest. Despite everything, our rescue team conducts night patrolling on a regular basis.”

Patrolling schedule
A team of eight members of the TFD Leopard Rescue Team start patrolling from 7 pm and continue till 6.30 am the next day. The team patrols the entire area, including the padas where leopards were spotted

Nature calls, leopard attacks
October 2013: A leopard killed 4-year-old Hiya Mhase in the early hours of October 2, when she had gone to answer nature’s call. The incident occurred in Khadak pada. January 2013: 10-year-old Saurav Thakur Yadav was killed by a leopard on January 28, when he had gone to answer nature’s call in the nearby bushes at Adarsh Nagar in Aarey colony.

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