Editorial

Not above the law: On Salman Khan case verdict

The stiff sentence of five years in jail awarded to actor Salman Khan for hunting blackbuck in Rajasthan’s Kankani village in 1998 should send out the message that stardom does not confer impunity. Unlike the average wildlife poaching case, where State forest departments struggle to gather credible evidence, the prosecution in the blackbuck case has been vigorously supported by the local Bishnoi community. What sets the case apart from so many other episodes of poaching and animal trapping in India’s forests is its naked celebration of bloodsport. Stars like Khan, who is no stranger to controversy surrounding hunting expeditions, seem to think conservation is not serious business, and the clock can readily be turned back to an era when the wealthy and powerful organised ‘shikar’ parties to hunt for pleasure. That era is over. If the verdict of the Jodhpur court in the blackbuck case survives the appeals process, it would send out the powerful message that the judicial system feels no constraint in exerting the full weight of the law to protect threatened wildlife. Equally, it should bring a feeling of empowerment to forest department personnel, and help them resist the intimidation that they routinely face from influential sections in the discharge of their duties. Protecting the blackbuck case verdict — and the witnesses who made it possible — is the challenge they face today.

 

The Wildlife (Protection) Act, the landmark law from 1972 that shields the diversity of India’s endangered animals mainly in 4% of its land area designated as protected, struggles to be effective and conviction rates are low. Besides restraining ‘VIP’ poachers, forest guards must combat organised hunting gangs that employ traps and snares for a thriving trade in animals, body parts and trophies. Even the population of the tiger, the most protected species, faces erosion due to poaching. At least 136 tigers were killed between 2014 and 2017, according to an estimate by the Wildlife Protection Society of India that includes official data on poaching. What is more, several species protected under the Schedules of the Wildlife Act are often found in areas that lie outside sanctuaries, and are commonly hunted. Forest departments must see the need for greater vigilance in such territories, which they can exercise in partnership with local communities. The verdict in the Salman Khan case strikes a blow for these free-ranging animals, sending out the message that hunting of protected species is certain to invite severe penalties. The court makes the important observation that personalities who are capable of influencing the behaviour of others must naturally be conscious of what they do. It is to be hoped that this will convince the high and mighty that bloodsports are grotesquely incongruous in the present day when environmental concerns rule supreme and engaging in them invites deterrent action.

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Printable version | Apr 11, 2021 11:40:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/not-above-the-law/article23459766.ece

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