Bhopal: The complete disappearance of tigers from the Panna reserve continues to stoke controversy. Now the Madhya Pradesh forest minister himself says the big cats were poached and has asked for a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe.
Panna Tiger Reserve, which was found to have around two dozen tigers after the census in January 2006, was left with no tigers by December 2008, according to wildlife experts.
"We have sent our request for a CBI probe into the disappearance of big cats from the reserve to the state government which will forward it to the centre," Sartaj Singh told a news agency.
"No arrests have been made till now even though it is clear that the tigers have been poached. The CBI could apprehend the guilty, some of whom are suspected to have inter-state links," the minister added.
The minister said there are many aspects in the case that need to be closely looked into and the CBI would be an appropriate agency for the purpose.
The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) team sent to Panna in 2009 to look into the disappearance observed that there were no tigers in the reserve.
Later the state government ordered its own probe after it disagreed with the findings of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) set up by the union environment and forests ministry.
The central government team`s report, submitted in June 2009, said the reserve lost most of its tigers to poachers and alleged that the forest officials did little despite adequate warnings.
But the state committee`s report submitted in the last week of February said a skewed male-female ratio, territorial fights, revenge killings by villagers, unbridled tourism activities and poaching were among the reasons behind the fall in tiger population.
"There were many reasons for the tiger`s disappearance and poaching didn`t occur inside the park," said former principal chief conservator of forests J.J. Dutta, a member of the state team.
A forest department official said: "One of the seven members of the state committee did not put his signature on the report as he disagreed with some of the findings."
Unhappy with the report submitted by the state committee, Minister Singh now wants a CBI inquiry into the disappearance of tigers.
On whether such a request would not embarrass his own government, the minister said: "No. Fingers have been pointed at the forest ministry and its officers in the past. I want to get the taint cleared once and for all."
Earlier, the CBI had in 2005 probed the disappearance of tigers from Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan.