An appeals court in New York has affirmed a district judge's order to dismiss a…
Forest officer is investigating People For Animals activists for killing endangered black kites; Union minister denies all the allegations. Says she does not even know who the case IO is
There seems to be no end to Maneka Gandhi’s troubles. A forest officer investigating activists associated with her NGO People For Animal for slaughtering 20 highly endangered black kites has filed a complaint saying the Union minister for women and childcare threatened him not to file the charge sheet against her activists. Gandhi is already in trouble and faces an inquiry for allegedly assaulting a lawyer in Pilibhit earlier this week.
Assistant Conservator of Forests IM Nagaraj, who is investigating activists in connection with the culling at a Uttarahalli shelter in January 2013, last week submitted a copy of his complaint to the court that is monitoring the probe. The court is expected to take up the matter in its next hearing later this month. Threatening a public servant and obstructing him from discharging his duties attract a jail term of two years.
Nagaraj, in his June 5 complaint, said Gandhi called him up on June 4 and threatened him, asking him to not file charges against PFA activists. She said if he went ahead, she would ensure that disciplinary action is taken against him on the basis of a complaint filed by her activists. Nagaraj, however, did not buckle under pressure and filed the charge sheet on July 2 naming five PFA activists. He also decided to bring the minister’s threats on record and lodged a formal complaint to the deputy conservator of forests.
The original case pertains to the culling of black kites at the PFA’s Uttarahalli shelter between January 20, 2013, and February 02, 2013.
Nagaraj was entrusted with the investigation and in July 2014 he filed a charge sheet against five PFA activists for euthanising 20 black kites, which are listed in the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Those named in the charge sheet are Alpana Bharatia, founder trustee PFA, Namrata Dugar, trustee, PFA, Arushi Poddar, trustee, PFA, Gauri Maini Hira, trustee, PFA, and Kishan, formerly general manager, PFA.
“I wish to bring to your notice that on 04.06.2014 at around 10.45 am, respected Shrimati Maneka Gandhi, union minister, Government of India, called the undersigned ( IM Nagaraj) from her office with telephone no.+911123359241 and directed to close the case (which legally amounts to filing a B closure final report). And said an action would be initiated against me on a complaint by Alpana Bharatia,” Nagaraj said in his letter dated June 5, 2014 to the deputy conservator of forests. Bangalore Mirror has a copy of the letter.
“It was uncalled for behaviour by the minister,” said a senior forest official, who did not want to be named. “Instead of threatening the officer investigating a case pertaining to an NGO related to her, they should have proved their point before the court. There were our findings and their objections, and it was a matter to be decided by the hon’ble court. What she did was offensive.”
Nagaraj refused to share details or comment, saying the matter was pending before the court. While his inquiry said PFA had violated Section 11 (Hunting of wild animals to be permitted in certain cases) of Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 and hence was punishable under Section 51 (penalty for violation).
PFA then tried arguing that the black kite (Milvus Migrans) is not listed in Schedule I of the Wildlife Act. Chaitanya Murti (joint director), ministry of environment and forests backed this claim in a letter.
But forest officials went ahead with the investigation, which is when Gandhi alleged called Nagaraj. When Bangalore Mirror contacted her, Gandhi denied speaking to the investigating officer. She said she did not even know who the IO was.
“I have never spoken to him in my life. I have no idea who he is. I don’t even know who the IO is,” she said. “The question is that this is a case that the wildlife department has ordered closed. Because it is a completely fictitious case and the matter had gone up even to the CM. The activists did nothing wrong. This is a simple case of harassment and misuse of power. That’s all.”
The forest department, however, maintained the officer was appointed by court and anybody initiating disciplinary action against an investigating officer or intervening was not a possibility.
“The earlier secretary had written to close down the case,” said Vinay Luthra, Chief Wildlife Warden and Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Karnataka. “But the court rejected it and appointed the ACF to probe the case. The hon’ble court will absolutely ensure his protection. The question of initiating disciplinary action against him by anybody doesn’t arise. In such case it’s the hon’ble court that takes cognisance and acts. Moreover one can’t take back the case unless the hon’ble court takes the final call.”