Forest Dept. should build a strong case against poachers, they say

The recent conviction of seven persons accused of poaching animals in the Nagarahole National Park has been described as a welcome development that augurs well for wildlife conservation.

Though innumerable cases are routinely registered by the Forest Department, a conviction is rare. The conviction rate is less than 5 per cent of the total number of cases registered.

The seven persons accused of hunting a monitor lizard were found guilty by a local court in Ponnampet of violating the Wildlife Protection Act. Since the incident took place in a tiger reserve, the court held that the accused were not entitled for benefit under the Probation of Offenders Act, which the counsel sought.

All seven were sentenced to undergo simple imprisonment for three years and asked to pay a fine of Rs. 50,000 each for the offence, punishable under Section 51 (C) of the Wildlife Protection Act. If they did not pay the fine, they would have to spend an additional three months in prison. The court also cancelled their bail and surety bonds and acting under Section 51 (2) of the Wildlife Protection Act, their vehicle was forfeited.

Sources pointed out that the law did not act as a deterrent against poachers due to poor conviction rates and the failure of the Forest Department to build a strong case against suspected poachers. Sources working on wildlife issues said more than a 1,000 cases have been registered in Nagarahole National Park alone in the last 10 years pertaining to violation of provisions of the Wildlife Act and the Forest Act. Rarely are the accused convicted.

Jaw traps

A case in point was the arrest of suspected poachers from Katni in Madhya Pradesh who were accused of laying jaw traps in the Nagarahole National Park. Their arrest and recovery of jaw traps in 2002 sent shockwaves in the wildlife circles as jaw traps were a “specialty” of poachers operating in central and north India. Its discovery in Nagarahole underlined the extent of operational reach of poachers and people dealing with wildlife derivatives. However, in spite of the sensational nature of the case, the accused were acquitted of all charges due to a weak case.

D. Rajkumar of Wildlife Conservation Foundation pointed out that there have been several elephant deaths in man-animal conflicts reported in and around Mysore and the death of other wildlife due to poaching, but hardly any convictions. He said the need of the hour was a specialised wing to deal with wildlife crimes which would build watertight cases, attend court proceedings and secure convictions. Until then, the law will not act deter poachers, he said.

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