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Was it necessary to kill Avni?

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Tigress Avni or T1
Nagpur: The carcass of tigress Avni or T1 arrives for an autopsy at Gorewada Rescue Centre in Nagpur on Nov 3, 2018. Avni or T1, who is believed to be responsible for killing and devouring 13 humans in the Pandharkawada- Ralegaon forests of Yavatmal district in eastern Maharashtra over the last two years. In September this year, the Supreme Court had said Avni or T1, as she is called, could be shot at sight, which prompted a flurry of online petitions seeking pardon for the tigress. (Photo: IANS)

In November 2012, a tigress and her two cubs began a journey from their home in the Pilibhit Tiger Reserve, Uttar Pradesh. She had somewhat uncharacteristically left the forest. Over the next two years, this tigress is recorded to have travelled 260 km — from the Amariya region in Pilibhit, along the Devha river, criss-crossing through the densely-populated village areas of Gularia Bithra, Khali Nawada, Bishanpur, Surajpur, Bhadsara, Dhaki, all the way up to Kanpur, where she was finally sighted in February 2014. A close-knit team comprising officials of the state’s Forest Department and tiger conservators of WWF-India were on the trail of this feline family.

The sketchy story from their sightings, pug mark tracking and camera-trap images unraveled that she was accompanied by her cubs for part of the journey, negotiating past villages, through sugarcane fields and grassy landscapes. On several occasions, she would enter the forest for short durations, only to return to her new habitat. The team speculated whether she had moved out of the forest to protect her cubs from aggressive males. Months later, in September 2014, they also spotted her cubs, now sub-adults, back in Amariya, apparently living and operating independently. Not a single incident of attack on humans or livestock was recorded through this epic journey of this majestic feline and her cubs.

Recently, another nursing tigress’s tryst with humans in Maharashtra’s Yavatmal region did not end so peacefully. Thirteen humans had been found dead in Yavatmal’s Ralegaon forest since June 2016, and Avni or T1, a six-year-old tigress with two 10-month-old cubs, was alleged to have been involved in several of these deaths.

According to a Maharashtra Forest Department official, an investigation had proved that she was responsible beyond doubt for at least two of those deaths. On November 2, this “man-eater”, as she was referred to, was shot dead — by a sharp-shooter appointed by the Forest Department — in the Borati jungles that are under the jurisdiction of Ralegaon police, according to news reports that quoted police sources.

Defending the circumstances of Avni’s death, Sunil Limaye, Maharashtra’s additional principal chief conservator of forest (wildlife), explained that the Pandharkawada forests house approximately seven to eight tigers. Avni and her two cubs occupied 160 square km of this forest. Over two years, based on various circumstantial evidence, the department suspected Avni and a male, T2, of having caused several human deaths. At that point, though, the evidence was not forensic.

“In August, we investigated and managed to find clear evidence of Avni being responsible for at least two of the recent killings. Based on these findings the courts ordered us to capture or kill the tigress. The death of the forest dwellers was a grave loss to their families. These people, whose livelihoods depend on the forests, feared for their lives. We followed the courts’ orders and were saddened by the tigress’s death. But we had no other choice,” he said.

Controversies and political banter surround Avni’s death today. Environment activists and animal lovers question whether the mother tigress could have been saved, or at least captured. Meanwhile, a bitter battle of words has erupted between a Union minister and a state minister, both belonging to the same political party. On Friday, November 9, media reported sources in the Maharashtra government as stating that the yet-to-be-released autopsy report “yielded clear evidence of foul play”. It quoted a state government official: “The forensics clearly show that the tigress was not charging at the team, but instead going somewhere else… If she was charging at the team, she would have been shot in her face or chest, not her shoulder.”

Juxtaposing this story of loss of life, both human and animal, against the epic journey of the Pilibhit tigress, raises several questions. Could Avni have been monitored like the Pilibhit tigress to avoid such a tragedy? Could locals have been better informed to control panic about a “man-eater”?

Did Avni truly turn rogue and kill people since 2016? Even as news reports on her post-mortem reveal that she had not eaten anything for at least a week, Dr. Jimmy Borah, tiger biologist and consultant at Panthera, an international organisation working on the conservation of wild cats, said: “A nursing tigress would probably only attack human beings for self-defense, if she feels her cubs are threatened. It is highly unlikely that she would choose humans as food for her cubs.”

Highlighting the apathy in the investigation process, Borah said, “Tigers are very intelligent animals. They might target easy prey, like livestock and humans, if they are injured or old and weak. A healthy animal would never target humans. If the concerned tigress was suspected of killing 13 people since 2016, it should have been investigated much earlier, given the advancement in forensic tests and methods today.”

He said that to safeguard the human population and in the larger interest of saving a wildlife species, it becomes imperative to “remove problem animals” sometimes. “Doing so will help in generating larger public support, especially from communities living in the fringes of protected areas and depending on the forests for their livelihood. However, identifying a problem animal is a herculean task that involves strong evidence, including forensics.” He stated that if an animal is identified as a problem, the best forest departments and states can do is to ensure that standard protocols and guidelines are followed closely.

On Avni’s orphaned cubs, Borah says: “The best option is to leave them alone. If they have learnt to hunt (other animals), they might probably do well. ‘Rescuing’ them would be pointless.”

(In arrangement with Mongabay.com, a source for environmental news reporting and analysis. The views expressed in the article are those of Mongabay.com. Feedback: [email protected])

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US bill over reciprocity of access to Tibet awaits Trump’s signature

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travel access to Tibet

Chicago, Dec 13 : The unanimous passage of a bill that insists on reciprocity between the US and China over travel access to Tibet is seen as a clear message that the US Congress is sending to Beijing about the situation in Tibet.

The Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act, which deals with “the level of access Chinese authorities granted US diplomats, journalists, and tourists to Tibetan areas in China”, seeks to deny admission to Chinese officials who prevent Americans from visiting Tibet.

It says, “The State Department shall report to Congress annually, identifying individuals who were blocked from US entry during the preceding year and a list of Chinese officials who were substantially involved in the formulation or execution of policies to restrict the access of US diplomats, journalists, and citizens to Tibetan areas.”

The bill now awaits signature by President Donald Trump to become law. Its passage was a result of a nearly four years of efforts by the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) and other Tibetan groups under the leadership of ICT chair and Hollywood star Richard Gere, a passionate activist and a committed Buddhist, as well as its president Matteo Mecacci.

Asked how optimistic he is about Trump signing the bill into law, especially at a time when his administration is engaged in a tense trade war with Beijing, Mecacci told IANS in an interview via email, “The overwhelming support shown by the US Congress for this bill, which passed unanimously both in the House and the Senate, is sending a very clear message to the Chinese government that the American people care deeply about the situation inside Tibet, and are concerned about the isolation that China has imposed.”

He said this bill is about the “principle of reciprocity that complements the Trump Administration’s policy”. “The State Department has also conveyed, during a hearing in the Senate, that it shares the goals of the bill and will implement it. We are confident that President Trump will take all these elements into account, when it comes to signing the bill into law,” Mecacci said.

On how, once it becomes law, it might impact US-China relations in the specific context of Tibet, he said, “The State Department, which on December 4 expressed official support for the goals of the legislation and plans to implement it, will have to assess the level of access to Tibet for American citizens and identify the Chinese officials who are responsible for blocking access, and eventually denying them visas to the United States.

“This is about reciprocity and fairness, and it is very important that the United States challenges China’s policy not only on trade or economic issues, but also on civil and human rights, such us freedom of movement, freedom of information and the rule of law,” he said.

President Trump has not been known to pay particular attention to Tibet. It is questionable whether he is aware of the historic complexities of the problem. Given that, it has not been clear how he might approach the bill waiting for his signature.

However, Mecacci is optimistic. “As I mentioned, the US Administration has been following this bill very closely and supports its goals. In general, the Trump Administration has already issued a report on the status of Tibet negotiations in May 2018 in which it has outlined its position on the Tibetan issue.”

On whether the bill may become a sort of political football in the trade dispute, he said, “This legislation was introduced in Congress well before the beginning of the Trump Administration and of the trade dispute with China. For decades, the US Congress and US Administrations have supported the aspiration of the Tibetan people to a better life. This will continue beyond a trade dispute. Since it is about American interest, we do not see how this can be impacted by the trade dispute.”

(Mayank Chhaya is a senior journalist of Indian origin based in Chicago. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Blow to BJP ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha polls – News Analysis

In the first instance of a party getting majority on its own in 30 years, BJP won 282 seats in Lok Sabha in 2014. The BJP-led NDA had won 336 seats out of 543.

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Congress workers Karnataka civic polls

The results in the Hindi heartland states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan came as a major shock for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has won all the major states barring Delhi, Bihar, Punjab and Karnataka in elections held after the sweeping 2014 Lok Sabha victory.

The BJP was routed in Chhattisgarh and defeated in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in closely-fought contests. The party mostly banked on the image of Chief Ministers Raman Singh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan to lift the party’s fortunes.

In Rajasthan, where opinion polls had written off the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah put in extra efforts, besides banking on the hardcore Hindutva image of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, to take the battle to the Congress, but still lost.

The BJP, however, managed to open its account in Mizoram, where the Mizo National Front (MNF) ousted the ruling Congress partty, but saw its numbers fall from five to one in Telangana, where the Telangana Rashtra Samithi swept the polls.

The results of these five states, which were dubbed the semifinals ahead of the next general elections in April-May 2019, could be a factor in the battle between the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and the Congress-led opposition.

The major issues raked up by Congress, specially the farm loan waiver amid an agrarian crisis across the country, employment and anger among upper caste, seems to have worked in its favour and could haunt the ruling dispensation if remedial measures are not taken.

The BJP is not ready, however, to accept the defeat as a referendum on the Modi government.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said issues in state elections are entirely different. The BJP won Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh in 2003 but lost the Lok sabha elections next year, he pointed out.

The general elections in 2019, he added, would be fought around Modi’s performance, with people voting for a tried and tested leadership instead of a non-ideological opposition coalition which is bound to collapse sooner than later.

The Congress, which had a disastrous performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and suffered successive defeats in various Assembly elections, smiled for the first time after defeating the BJP in a direct contest in the three crucial states in north India.

Party president Rahul Gandhi, who campaigned vigorously, said the Assembly election results were a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s non-performance on issues of unemployment, agrarian distress, corruption and negating the ill-effects of demonetisation.

Out of total 678 Assembly seats in the five states in the current round of elections, the Congress has won close to 300 seats while the BJP managed to win over 200 seats. In the 2013 Assembly polls, the BJP had won 377 seats in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Mizoram while the Congress had won only 122 seats in these states.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had won 62 out of total 83 Lok Sabha constituencies of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Telangana and Mizoram. Now the three Hindi heartland states will be ruled by Congress and the its impact would definitely be felt in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

In the first instance of a party getting majority on its own in 30 years, BJP won 282 seats in Lok Sabha in 2014. The BJP-led NDA had won 336 seats out of 543.

Its allies include the Shiv Sena, which has been on the war path for a while. Similarly, N. Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) have walked out of the NDA.

Since 2014, BJP has managed to retain just six Lok Sabha seats in by-polls. It won Lakhimpur in Assam, Shahdol in Madhya Pradesh, Beed and Palghar in Maharashtra, Vadodara in Gujarat and Shimoga in Karnataka.

In the last four years, the party has lost Lok Sabha by polls in Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh, Gurdaspur in Punjab, Alwar and Ajmer in Rajasthan, Kairana, Phulpur and Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, Bhandara-Gondiya in Maharashtra and Bellary and Mandya constituencies in Karnataka.

The BJP, however, maintained the verdict was a mandate against the state governments and not against the Modi government.

“The results in five states clearly show there is no uniform trend across the country and local factors determined the outcome in each state. This is evident from the fact that even Congress suffered massive defeats in Mizoram and Telangana.

“Despite 15 years of anti-incumbancy in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP has put up a fight in Madhya Pradesh and has a major comeback in Rajasthan. The BJP’s and Congress’ vote share in both the states in Mandhya Pradesh and Rajasthan is almost tied which clearly show that the BJP has the potential to comeback with big victories in 2019 Lok Sabha polls,” BJP Spokeperson G.V. L. Narsimha Rao told IANS.

He also said whenever Congress has tied up with a regional party, it cost them votes.

(Brajendra Nath Singh can be contacted at [email protected])

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Verdict in Hindi heartland states gives Congress hope for 2019 – News Analysis

The outcome is expected to energize the Congress rank and file who have been largely starved of election victories since its 2014 debacle. The latest victory is the first time since 2014 when the Congress has defeated the BJP in a straight contest.

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Rahul Gandhi

The Congress recorded its best-ever performance against the BJP since the disastrous 2014 Lok Sabha polls capturing power in the three Hindi heartland states and reviving its hopes in the next general elections. But the outcome has also sent signals that defeating the BJP nationally may not be an easy task.

Except for Chhattisgarh, where the party won a two-thirds majority, the results were not as resounding as the Congress would have liked, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where it failed to cross the half-way mark on its own by just two seats.

It lost power in Mizoram, the only northeastern state it had, and was routed in Telangana where its decision to go with the Telugu Desam Party evidently boomeranged.

The verdict, with the Congress poised to form governments in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, coincided with the first anniversary of Rahul Gandhi’s elevation as party chief, raising his stature as a leader and enhancing his image as a serious politician.

The outcome is expected to energize the Congress rank and file who have been largely starved of election victories since its 2014 debacle. The latest victory is the first time since 2014 when the Congress has defeated the BJP in a straight contest.

Questions remain if the verdict is strong enough to dent the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an effective campaigner and communicator but it is likely to give some confidence to Congress workers that the party has a chance to turn the tables if there is a “Modi versus Rahul” contest in 2019.

The outcome will strengthen the position of the Congress in the emerging alliance of opposition parties to take on the BJP-led alliance in 2019 and increase worries of Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah in the Hindi heartland states where the BJP won most seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha battle.

The Congress has performed well as a challenger but has found it hard to defend its incumbent governments.

The results showed that the Congress can build its campaign around the issues of agrarian distress, unemployment, demonetization, corruption, security of women, Goods and Services Tax (GST), autonomy of institutions and “misuse” of investigative agencies.

The outcome has given the opportunity to Congress to pose a challenge to the BJP though it would be an uphill challenge to implement its promise of farm loan waivers. It had attacked the BJP governments in the states and the Centre on the issue.

Rahul Gandhi ran an energetic campaign since the announcement of polls in the five states in October and held 62 rallies, targeting Modi in every meeting.

He addressed 19 public meetings and held one roadshow in Chhattisgarh, 25 public meetings and four road shows in Madhya Pradesh, 19 public meetings and two roadshows in Rajasthan, 17 public meetings in Telangana and two rallies in Mizoram.

Gandhi was able to effect an organisational coherence in the poll-bound states, overcoming one of the party’s weaknesses.

He made organisational changes and put Kamal Nath as party chief in faction-ridden Madhya Pradesh. The decision was made in April, barely seven months before the Assembly polls leaving the new state chief little time to build his campaign.

The results are expected to lead to questions in the Congress if its decision not to project a Chief Ministerial candidate was the best strategy.

The BJP’s strong performance in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh despite anti-incumbency apparently shows that the 2019 election will need a much more sustained effort by the Congress to dislodge the Modi government.

Though the Congress won more seats than BJP in both these states, the two parties have nearly the same vote share.

The victory of TRS in Telangana has boosted the profile of state Chief Minister K. Chanrasekhar Rao who has pledged to form a third front that does not include BJP or Congress. This could counter the efforts of his rival, TDP leader and Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N. Chandrababu Naidu, to bring opposition parties, including Congress, on one platform.

The Congress could not win a full majority in Rajasthan, falling short by two seats in a cyclical rotation in which both BJP and Congress have been forming governments alternately in the last 20 years.

In Madhya Pradesh, where BJP has been in power for the past 15 years, it could not secure a thumping majority like it did in the neighbouring Chhattisgarh and is all set to form a government with the support of BSP and SP.

In Chhattisgarh, it won after parting ways with former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi who floated his own party.

Gandhi has indicated that the Congress will continue to build its campaign in the Lok Sabha elections around the issues it raised during the Assembly polls. He has also said that the opposition parties will unitedly fight the polls.

With the opposition unlikely to project a Prime Ministerial candidate, the BJP is likely to play this to its advantage in the Lok Sabha elections by making it “Modi versus who” battle.

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