Thursday, May 23, 2013

Trigger-happy Madhya Pradesh town awaits lions

Trigger-happy Madhya Pradesh town awaits lions
Times of India

If there is a wild wild west in the east, it is Palpur-Kuno. The proposed new home to Asiatic lions is a safe haven for gun-toters. A drive down the road connecting Sheopur to Palpur-Kuno is enough to showcase the rampant gun culture in this small town on the south-western edge of Chambal. You meet scores of macho bikers who have rifles slung on their shoulders. The pistols remain unseen, raising serious doubts about the safety of the lions post-translocation from Gir, where the beast seldom sees a gun.

In Agara, on the edge of the Palpur-Kuno sanctuary, the local police station covers 32 villages where firearm licences have been given to 162 people. The number of illegal arms is believed to be much higher. Here, gun is a way of life, status symbol and a means to protect oneself from other gunmen, including dacoits.

"One out of every three families in Agara owns a rifle. The situation is worse in Umri village where almost every house of the Moghiya tribe has one firearm each, legal or illegal," said an Agara police official.

Last month, two persons were arrested with illegal firearms in separate cases. And such incidents are regular. Bairam Badoria, a resident of Sheopur, says, "These guns are used mainly to display power, but also to protect from wild animals like bears."

There are an estimated 4,800 firearms for a population of six lakh in the district. And, these are only licensed firearms â€" the number of unlicensed weapons is likely to be much higher as this is the tip of Chambal valley, which is also infested with dacoits. Vijaypur tehsil, where the sanctuary is located, has 1,400 licensed weapons.

On April 12, Mahendra Prajapati, a forest guard at Kuno, was attacked by poachers. "We have seen that majority of the poachers who are arrested possess illegal firearms," he says.

Even the survey by the ministry of forest and environment in 2011 has recorded high prevalence of guns in Kuno and surrounding areas. The report also underlines the presence of dacoits who are still at large and people keep guns with or without licence for self defence.

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