Villgers of Keri-Sattari want to maul him for throwing light on an issue, which was dead months ago. Rajendra Kerkar, environmentalist and founder of Vivekananda Environmental Awareness Brigade, who exposed the alleged killing of a tiger in the village says he won’t buckle under pressure and would not stop his mission and that he would continue to take up issues affecting the environment including the proposed Charvanem dam.
VITHALDAS HEGDE gets an insight into the ‘Green’ man.
GT: Why is that you have been at the receiving end ever since you exposed the alleged killing of a tiger at Keri-Sattari?
Rajendra Kerkar (RK): It all started after a tiger was killed on a hillock at Keri. The tiger was killed somewhere in February and I came to know about it only a fortnight ago. The son of the main suspect had stored the photograph of the slain tiger on his computer and sent photo messages to his friends on cell phones.
Our volunteers of Vivekananda Environment Awareness Brigade also got his photo message and I immediately informed the Chief Conservator of Forest (CCF) Shashi Kumar. When the incident was reported in newspapers it created ripples in the village. The officials of the forest department rushed to Keri and started investigations even as there were political pressures to hush up the case.
VH: Was tiger really killed in the village?
RK: Yes. Our volunteers saw the carcass lying on the hillock after animal was shot dead. Once the news of forest officials visiting the village spread, the suspects immediately buried the carcass.
The animal was killed after it got entangled in a trap laid by the poachers to nab wild animals. Entangled, the tiger which must have come in search of its prey, started frantically running to the village making rattling noise much to the fear of the villagers.
The forest department officials first quizzed me and told them to try and locate the carcass. They later nabbed five suspects and during the course of investigations they broke down and showed them the place where the carcass was buried.
Forest officials found tiger bones and collected specimen of other parts like jaws, teeth, fur and bones from the site and sent it to Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun for forensic test.
VH: But the forensic report indicates that the teeth and blood samples do not belong to a tiger. Comment
RK: It is a preliminary report sent by the Wildlife Institute of India, which states that the teeth and blood samples found on leaves do not match with the tiger. The forest officials had sent 10 to 12 samples of the tiger remnants to the Wildlife Institute of India for forensic test. I am hopeful that the report of forensic test of other parts, which are yet to be received, would prove that they belong to that of tiger.
The Chief Conservator of Forests has also said that it is a preliminary report and and full-fledged report is awaited.
VH: Are you optimistic about the pending report?
RK: yes. I am very much hopeful that the reports of other samples would prove that the killed animal was a tiger. For me there is no issue of the parts of the animal found there, what is more important is that a national animal – tiger was killed in the village. Unfortunately, there are some forest officials (having vested interests) who do not believe that tigers exist in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary. This is mainly because the tiger sightings would come under the Project Tiger launched by the Government of India and headed by the Prime Minister.
They are not working in the interest of Wildlife.
VH: What is your future plan of action in combating the poaching of animals in wildlife areas?
RK: The rampant poaching incidents have become a major concern for us and they try to ruin other species. There is presence of a tiger, a tigress and a cub in wildlife area and they should be protected.
The forest department should take stringent steps to curb the poaching of herbivorous animals and curtail deforestation activities. The government launched the Social Forestry project in a most unscientific manner and without understanding the topography of the area and floral density. They planted exotic species like acacia in the wildlife area when it was not required.
The government should also increase the staff of the forest department, provide mobile squad to deal with wildlife cases and conduct awareness on environment education.
VH: How would you react to the decision of some of the villagers denouncing you for taking up the tiger killing issue?
RK: In a democracy everybody has a right to make his point. But they are raising baseless arguments without having proper knowledge. I won’t be deterred by their decisions. We have dedicated and devoted volunteers in the Vivekananda Environment Awareness Brigade who are working for the environment cause. I will not stop my mission and would continue to take up issues affecting the environment including the proposed Charvanem dam, which has been stopped now.
Gomantak Times, September 21, 2009, Panaji.