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Home > Mumbai > Mumbai News > Article > Mumbai Please stop this leopard drama

Mumbai: ‘Please stop this leopard drama!’

Updated on: 19 April,2024 06:45 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Diwakar Sharma |

Incredulous Vasai residents say big cat ‘presence’ is just a rumour floated by authorities to cover up surreptitious illegal activities and by ASI to stop RoRo from operating near historic fort

Mumbai: ‘Please stop this leopard drama!’

Banners put up by the forest dept warning locals of the leopard

Key Highlights

  1. Forest department has been unable to catch leopard hiding in the Vasai fort area
  2. ASI has barricaded the area to restrict public movement for 12 hours
  3. However, the local fishing community says they have noticed suspicious activity

For the past 21 days, the forest department has been unable to catch a leopard believed to be hiding in the Vasai fort area. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has barricaded the area to restrict public movement for 12 hours between 7 pm and 7 am. However, the local fishing community says they have noticed suspicious activity in the area in the middle of the night and feel the leopard ‘rumour’ is only to keep the locals at bay. With losses mounting over the barriers hindering business, they have threatened to break them down on Saturday.

Villagers in the Vasai Fort area have given authorities an ultimatum to either catch the leopard or stop the “curfew drama” by the weekend, or they would themselves remove the barricades on Saturday evening. Social activist and local resident Sanjay Koli told mid-day that roads around Vasai Fort are blocked for 12 hours after 7 pm every day, after the alleged movement of the big cat. “But, I have been told by local youth that a loaded truck was seen heading towards Vasai jetty, near the Ro-Ro point, on Monday night. Is something being smuggled during LS elections in the middle of night?” he wondered. “Officials concerned should also keep a close watch on this deserted space to discourage any misdoings during the elections,” he added.

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Roads in the Vasai Fort area have been barricaded
Roads in the Vasai Fort area have been barricaded

After leopard movement was allegedly noticed in the area, the last Ro-Ro boat leaves the Vasai jetty for Bhayandar at 3.45 pm every day, an official from the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) posted at Vasai jetty told mid-day. According to Koli, as vehicular traffic to the Ro-Ro point stops around 3.45 pm, the mysterious activities observed earlier this week are a cause for concern. “Specifically, there are questions regarding the contents of the heavily loaded truck that come in the late hours of the night. This leads one to believe that the reports of the leopard movement are fabricated. It needs to be thoroughly investigated,” he said. When contacted, a Customs officer at Vasai jetty, Mohit Mallik, said, “We have no clue if any truck reaching Vasai jetty in the middle of the night.”

Koli added that nearly 16,000 people live in Pachubandar-Kilabandar villages near Vasai Fort “and their movements have been restricted after 7 pm due to the curfew”. The fishing community has alleged that they grappling with significant losses due to the blockade of arterial roads. Approximately 300 registered fishing boats have ventured into the sea for a catch and they are expected to return within a week. However, the obstruction of key transportation routes exacerbates the challenges faced by the community, hampering a timely return to the village and causing economic strain.

The official meeting with forest department and revenue officials. Pics/Hanif Patel
The official meeting with forest department and revenue officials. Pics/Hanif Patel

“The catch is offloaded at Vasai jetty in the evening, and later it is transported to the nearby fish market in Vasai. But how we will transport the catch if the roads are blocked? We have been incurring huge losses,” said Agnel Bhatya, a local fisherman from Kilabandar village. Bhatya claimed that he incurred a loss of Rs 1.50 lakh because he had to reroute to the Naigaon market as it was impossible to wait until morning with perishable items. “If one boat incurred a loss of Rs 1.50 lakh, think of the overall loss the fishing community would be incurring because there are a total of 300 fishing boats. We are facing this difficulty just because there is no clarity by the forest department over their efforts to trap the leopard,” said Koli.

Government officials from the revenue and forest departments held a joint meeting on Saturday where the local fishermen from both villages were invited. According to Koli, when the officials were asked what initiatives were being taken to trap the leopard, they were silent. “Why are they not disclosing how many cages have been installed, or showing us any photographs or videos of the feline? No proof was given to us. We offered support to catch the leopard but the officials remained silent. Why is there so much secrecy in this matter?”

Koli said the locals who attended the meeting gave the officials a week’s time to either catch the leopard or withdraw the curfew, else they would remove all the barricades themselves on Saturday. Since the curfew was imposed, local villagers have to take long detours to reach their homes, braving a desolate stretch where the absence of street lights is a major concern. “The women generally carry loads on their heads and return home late in the evening. Also, students who go for tuition and the working class return home late evening. Auto-rickshaw drivers charge double the fare to take the alternate longer route. Why we should bear this pain?” Prince Dongarkar, a local resident, said.

His neighbour Elistar Patil said, “The distance between Parnaka in Vasai to Kilabundar is 2.5 km if we take the Vasai Fort road which is blocked. So we have to travel an additional kilometre for which auto drivers generally charge double or simply refuse to ply.” Yuvraj Jadhav, an auto-rickshaw driver at a stand near Vasai Fort, said, “Obviously the fare will be doubled if we have to cover extra distance.”

Deputy Conservator of Forest (DCF), Dahanu, Madhumita Subramani told mid-day that multiple camera traps and cages have been set up in the Vasai Fort area. “The leopard’s movement has been captured in the camera traps. We are working on catching the big cat,” Subramani said. According to forest department sources, around nine camera traps have been installed.

Fisherman complain, others fear

Residents in the fort area—approximately 40-50 people—says they have seen the big cat that recently killed two dogs. A few days ago, the leopard was sighted near the house of a family where it dragged away a stray dog. Terrorised, they fear leaving their homes for the last 15 days and ensure doors and windows are bolted after sunset. The villagers say they spotted the big cat on Gudi Padwa, when it attacked and killed two dogs.

Asha Dayaram Malya, a housewife residing in the village, shared with mid-day, “I have three kids and we all live in fear. We saw a large leopard outside our house attack and kill a dog. It then dragged the dog into another part of the fort area. Since we do not have toilet facilities at home, we, being farmers, use the area outside for this purpose. Now we are unable to leave the house until morning.”

“We saw it hunt down and kill one dog outside our house while the other one has gone missing,” she added. Another resident, Suresh Kaladiya, said, “Our only source of income is farming and selling vegetables in the market. For the past 15 days, fear of the leopard has prevented us from going outside. We saw the leopard outside our homes, and now we are too afraid to leave. This has also affected our ability to go outside to sell vegetables in the morning. We have decided to take a risk and go to the market early in the morning. Leaving home at 4.30 am is risky, but if the leopard is not captured in the next five days, we may have to risk our lives and venture out for work. If our income stops, we won’t survive.”

Time of curfew in the area

—With inputs by Shirish Vaktania

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