Asghar Ali guilty of unauthorised killing of tigress Avni (T1), says report

Updated: Feb 17, 2019, 12:23 IST | Ranjeet Jadhav

It also mentions that the shooter Asghar Ali appears to have clandestinely moved the weapons as well as scheduled drugs used in the operation to Hyderabad without informing the authorities

Asghar Ali guilty of unauthorised killing of tigress Avni (T1), says report
Tigress T1 captured on a camera trap. File Pics

Days before being shot dead, tigress T1 had completely lost the fear of humans and was responsible for a number of deaths in the Pandharkawda area, the report of the state-appointed committee probing her death confirms. However, what is more alarming is that the committee has sought action against shooter Asghar Ali, son of Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, as he has been found to be responsible for violations with regards to the Arms Act and the veterinary drugs used in the killing of the tigress.

The committee says, "According to our findings, it is clear that Asghar Ali is prima facie guilty of unauthorised shooting and killing of tigress T1. He appears to have clandestinely moved the weapons as well as scheduled drugs used in the operation to Hyderabad without informing the authorities. This opens up the possibility of important evidence being tampered with. Therefore, cases should immediately be registered against Asghar Ali under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, Arms Act, 1959 and Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. These investigations should also examine the role and culpability of Shafat Ali Khan and other members of the team involved in the operations."

Finding out exigencies
The main aim of the committee was to see whether efforts were made to tranquilise and capture the tigress post the orders on September 4, 2018. To find out the exigencies that arose at the spot on November 2, 2018, which led to the killing of Avni, the team analysed whether the guidelines issued by the National Tiger Conservation Authority were implemented during the operation.

In the introductory paragraph of the report, the committee has mentioned, "Evidence confirms that not only T1, but even T2 and the two cubs preyed on livestock and humans." It is also of the opinion that judicial interventions by activists led to the delay and confusion in field operations and unnecessary deaths of humans. To understand the exigencies that arose at the spot, the committee members had visited the places frequented by the tigress, her cubs and T2.

They also inspected the spots where she had killed humans. They then visited the site where T1 was killed and asked both the groups involved in the operation, which comprised Asghar Ali, forester Mukhbir Sheikh, driver Salman Khan, forest guards Dilip Mahadevrao Keram and Govind Gyanoba Kendre, to enact the sequence of events that happened on November 2.

'Tigress Avni (T1) was killed in hurry'

Details of equipment and firearms used during the encounter as per the report
"The committee was extremely surprised when Asghar Ali Khan stated that he does not remember which of the two guns he claimed he was carrying was used to shoot the tiger, with the other one resting on his lap. He also could not remember the specification of the two weapons in terms of their make/type other than that they were non-prohibited bore weapons. He also stated that the tranquilizing gun (that belonged to his NGO) was used by Mukhbir Sheikh in the alleged darting.

It was clear from the investigation that the firearms that were claimed to have been used by Asghar Ali, as well as the tranquilising gun allegedly used by Mukhbir Sheikh, were not immediately deposited with the forest department officials as they should have been to ensure the integrity of subsequent ballistic and forensic tests they had to undergo. This is a clear breach and serious lapse on the part of Asghar Ali, his team and forest officials who were subsequently in charge of due processes to be followed. Further, Asghar Ali’s explanation as to why the ejected empty cartridge was not collected and similarly deposited with the forest department in the immediate minutes after the tigress was allegedly darted and then shot, was not at all convincing. It is difficult to understand how the empty cartridge, which would have identified the weapon and used in ballistic tests was so carelessly 'lost' within minutes after the tiger was shot and five people on the scene looking for it.

The fact that neither the firearms nor the tranquilizing projector with the unused second dart in it containing 3 ml of the drug have not yet been deposited with the forest department even after the passage of a month since the night of 2nd November 2018, despite repeated official requests and reminders, raises serious doubts about the motives of Asghar Ali Khan and Shafath Ali Khan who own these weapons. " states the State Appointed Committee report

The report further also states that, "The direction of the gunshot wound was from below the left scapular caudal angle caudo-cranially and dorso-ventrally towards medially in thoracic cavity indicating that the animal was shot sideways while crossing the road and was not charging head-on at the shooter. The animal died of excessive internal haemorrhage and cardio-respiratory failure resulting from injuries/damage to multiple organs. Based on the PM report and the sampling carried out, it is difficult to comment on the type of weapon used for shooting and therefore calls for a complete ballistic investigation for identifying the type of weapon used for shooting.

Highlighting an important point the committee states that " The committee also found that Asghar Ali Khan, has, immediately after he hunted tigress T-1, clandestinely removed the weapons, ammunitions, tranquilizing dart gun and associated scheduled drugs, without duly accounting for their safekeeping with the authorized officers, to Hyderabad across the State border. The committee opines his actions considered in totality, may amount to violations of the WLPA as well as of The Arms Act, 1959 and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS),1985, thus requiring further investigations by the Police under relevant laws. We note that forest officials do not have authority or powers to conduct necessary investigations under the Arms Act, 1959 and NDPS Act, 1985. The committee has received an email alleging various other potential violations by Shafath Ali Khan and Asghar Ali Khan. After carefully examining the same, the committee notes that the following questions that raised in totality, also deserve to be investigated Inter alia:

  • Whether the said weapon/s and ammunition have been legally brought into India
  • Whether the said weapon/s are indeed an NP bore firearms and entered in the relevant Licenses.
  • Whether the said weapon/s have been modified in violation of the Arms Act, 1959.
  • Whether the identification number of the weapon/s has been tampered with.
  • Whether the above individuals have been permitted to possess night vision scopes and or devices legally.

"Considering the weight of all the findings of the committee listed above under ToR-2 and ToR-4, the committee also strongly and unanimously opines that the protection sought by and for Asghar Ali Khan for the act of hunting tigress T-1 under the plea of self-defence or defence of other persons, which is an omnibus legal provision under section 11 (2) of WLPA and applicable to any citizen of India, is not applicable in this case. His action has to be investigated under WLPA, Arms Act 1959 and NDPS Act 1985 following all due procedures." states the report

Recommendations of the committee
The point number 7 from the report reads, "For reasons explained in our findings it is clear that Mr. Asghar Ali Khan is Prima facie guilty of un-authorized shooting and killing of tigress T-1. He appears to have clandestinely removed the weapons as well as scheduled drugs used in the operation to Hyderabad without informing authorities. This opens up the possibility of such important evidence being tampered with as detailed in our findings. Therefore, appropriate cases should be immediately registered against Asghar Ali Khan under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 by the forest Authorities and under the Arms Act, 1959 and the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 by the police authorities. These investigations should also examine the role and culpability of Shafath Ali Khan and other members of the private team of hunters who were involved in these operations."

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