Pictures – both still and video – of a man riding atop a moving Maruti Gypsy with a telescopic gun, happily gunning down blue bulls or nilgai in the barren fields of Mokama Taal in Bihar, have stirred the conscience of a large number of people.
The public display of his shooting skills, and the killing of hundreds of animals has created quite a controversy. After Union Minister of Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi picked up the issue and trained her guns at her colleague in the government, Environment and Forest Minister Prakash Javadekar, and the Bihar Government for the alleged killer “lust”, the controversy blew out in the national media.
The shooter, Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, and his companion, who till other day were basking in the glory, chose to retreat from the barren fields of Bihar.
By his own account to Firstpost, Khan killed over 250 nilgai in Bihar as part of his “free social service” before returning home. The killing continues, for as he says anyone is free to kill them, and his task is being now taken over by the ordinary residents of the state. As the shooting of these animals fuels controversy, a look at Khan's own track record reveals that it is not any less controversial.
In 1991-92, he was arrested by the Karnataka police for supplying weapons to Maoists who operated along the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border. Patel Sudhakar Reddy, a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of India (Maoist), was also arrested along with him.
The Hindu reported, “The police are also not ruling out the possible nexus of the arms dealer with naxalites. This came to light when the Andhra Pradesh police arrested arms dealer Nawab Shafat Ali Khan, who was accused of supplying arms to naxalite leader Patel Sudhakar Reddy. According to the police, the naxalites had used their contacts with arms dealers to procure different kinds of weapons.''
While Khan was subsequently chargesheeted, he managed to secure his release by allegedly moving political levers in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. He then purchased safari land in Tamil Nadu’s Bokkapuram, bordering the Bandipur National Park, from where he would “organise wildlife shootings” for rich clients not only in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh but also in other parts of India. He would use telescope-mounted rifles to kill faraway animals.
Khan had another brush with the law in 2005, when the Karnataka CID (Forests) caught him for his shooting expeditions, which is a punishable act under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. Although the case was dropped by the CID (Forests), Khan had by that time earned a degree of notoriety even among his ilk of game hunters.
Former Additional Director General of Police of Karnakata KSN Chikkerur, who earlier held the charge of IG CID (Forest), said that in 2005 that he had received information that Khan had developed the property in Bokkapuram.
“I knew his past criminal activities and he was also known as a poacher. I sent an alert to all concerned in police because he was frequently spotted travelling through our area. We had doubts and kept an eye on him. But our problem was that the crimes he committed were registered in the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh. Andhra Police has those details. What I can tell you about Khan is that he is a very trigger happy man,” Chikkerur said.
Two years ago, Khan came under the lens of the Himachal Pradesh authorities and wildlife conservationists when he killed two leopards in Thunag-Mandi, although his specific task was to put down a man-eating tiger. Incidentally, Himachal Pradesh government’s decision to invite Khan in 2014 to kill the man-eating tiger was in complete violation of the Wildlife Protection Act and the regulations governing the National Tiger Task Force. The standard operating procedure to kill a man-eater – whether a tiger or a leopard – is that only a shooter under the employment of a state government’s forest department could legally do so.
Khan, however, dismissed all charges against him: "Jab aap kam karte hain toh koi pathar phenkte hain (When you work, then people through stones at you). Some baseless cases were registered against me but all those have ended in acquittal. Even Tamil Nadu chief minister was sentenced and her case is pending in the Supreme Court. Toh hum toh bahut chote hain (compared to her I am too small a person). As on today, there is no case pending against me. Charges against me were motivated. Currently I have been caught in the cross fire between two central ministers (Maneka Gandhi and Prakash Javadekar).”
He claims that he had gone to Bihar from Hyderabad on an invitation from the Bihar government, because he is an authorised shooter. While it has been suggested that the shooter, he or anyone else, were paid Rs 1,500 per kill, Khan says he “does it (for) free".
"I belong to a royal family. I do this as social service. I kill tiger, I kill elephant to help poor farmer families. I tranquilise leopard, tiger, bear and so on as required. I give training in tranquilising (animals) to the forest department. I go to Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, basically wherever the government invites me,” Khan said.
In Bihar he is said to have been invited by JD(U) MLC Neeraj Kumar.
In March this year, 53 wild boars were shot down in Chandrapur forest by the same legal hunter. He had been recalled to shoot 50 more in April. The local forest department was not consulted and they complained to the Maharashtra government about the consequences of this terrible action.
There are 120 tigers in the forest and their main food is wild boar. The local forest department assessed that after this massacre, it would be difficult for the tigers to find their natural prey. They said that the chances of them lifting cattle, goats and even young children from the villages in the forest would now go up exponentially. Faced with this problem, the Maharashtra environment minister immediately cancelled the kill orders. There were suggestions that the union ministry of forest and environment pushed for the killing of the boars.
The animal rights activists argue that what makes the decision of the central government even more worrisome is that by declaring an animal as vermin, not only do they permit its killing, but don't assume responsibility for the disposal of the carcasses either.
This means that the hunter can keep the dead animal and harvest the body for whatever purposes. Nilgai's meat is considered a delicacy by some people and they will all be either heading to Bihar or looking for opportunities to get it killed in other areas.
All this is dangerous and can potentially open the floodgates for hunting of wild animals in all other states. The poachers can claim that the body parts or trophy had been obtained from Bihar. By including these animals in the list of vermin, there is no end to the damage that the food chain and the overall ecology will suffer.