At around 7.40pm on Thursday, Adha Yasir’s parents heard a sharp cry.
The four-year-old girl was playing on the lawn of her house in Jammu and Kashmir’s Budgam district. Her parents, who were in the house, and neighbours in Ompora Housing Colony remember the girl running about.
The parents rushed out, only to find their daughter nowhere. They alerted the neighbours, the local police and launched a massive search operation.
Roughly one hour later, local residents found the girl’s necklace and slippers from the forest that surrounded the colony. “This raised suspicion that the girl was taken away by a leopard, which are common in the area,” said Ehsan Fazili, a neighbour.
In the early hours of Friday, their fears came true. Police found Yasir’s mutilated body in the forest nursery located one kilometre from her house, said an official who was part of the search team.
“After receiving the information, a police team, locals and the wildlife department constituted various teams to trace the girl. After massive searches, the teams recovered the mauled body of the girl from the nearby forest nursery. Preliminary investigation suggests that the girl has been attacked and mauled by some wild animal (probably Leopard), said senior superintendent of police (Budgam) Tahir Saleem.
Grandfather of the girl, Ghulam Hassan Mir, said that they have been urging the authorities to address the issue for a long time, but all the efforts were in vain. “The pain of losing our dear girl will never be healed. But fixing the problem could save other lives.”
Local residents and politicians blamed the wildlife department for the death of the girl. “This is the nursery not the forest so they could have easily cleared trees from this place,” said Shabir Ahmad, another neighbour.
Former minister and legislator Ruhullah Medhi termed the incident a case of “criminal negligence”. “Given the fact that incidents involving the same wild animals occurred multiple times in the recent months in areas as close to district collector’s office. People then were lucky, but this time this innocent little soul had to pay with her life,” he said.
Budgam deputy commissioner Shabaz Mirza chaired a high level meeting with senior officials of police and forest department to decide on measures to prevent such incidents in the future, including immediate removal of fallen material trees from snow and bushes and other cultural operations (like removal of bushes) in Ompora forests and other areas.
A spokesperson for the J&K administration assured action within two days.
“DFO (Divisional Forest Officer) Budgam will immediately take steps for erection and strengthening of existing chain-link fencing at Ompora forests and will also submit DPR (detailed project report) to higher authorities for sanction of funds. He will also process the proposal/ case for sanction of thinning of the forest immediately. Wild life Warden Budgam will deploy staff well equipped with machinery for elimination of the wild animal (leopard), which has turned man-eater,” said the spokesperson, adding that the family of the deceased girl will also be compensated.
DC Budgam Shabaz Mirza and SSP Tahir Saleem visited the house in the afternoon and assured them this type of incident wont be repeated and expressed condolences with the family. The range officer (Wildlife) in Ompora has also been put under suspension.
Chief Wildlife warden, Suresh Kumar said they have set up the Control Room in Budgam and also put trapping cages in area. “One leopard was rescued from the area few months back.”