Guwahati: In a first-of-its-kind judgement against wildlife crime in Assam, a lower court in Assam’s Chirang district sentenced five persons in three separate cases to seven years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs 50,000 each for hunting protected species of birds and animals under different ranges of Manas National Park.
In the judgment pronounced by the Additional Sessions Judge Naim Uddin Ahmed in Bijni under Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) on June 17, 2019, Somnath Kisku and Dhojen Tudu were convicted under Section 51(1) first proviso of the Wildlife Protection (Assam Amendment) Act, 2009, for hunting three hares, two mongooses, a dove, a bulbul and a barbet. Mongooses belong to Part II of Schedule II of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and the other birds and animals fall under Schedule IV specified animals.
Veterinary officer under Manas Tiger Project, Prabhat Basumatary, had submitted before the court the examination reports which stated that the hare was found dead with multiple fractures on spinal cord and skull, the mongooses, dove and the barbet were found to have died of spinal cord fractures, while the bulbul died of a skull fracture resulting in complete damage of brain.
“Nowadays, offences against wild animals have increased and some species have disappeared due to hunting by poachers. To protect ecological environment, wild animals should be protected for balancing the environment,” said Ahmed in the court order.
During interrogation, Tudu admitted that he hunted the animals and birds along with Kisku by using a ‘hunting dog’. The animal carcasses were found by the Assam forest department officials under Panbari range of the national park.
“The three landmark judgements by sessions court Bijni, Assam, have set an example. No other wildlife case, even high profile ones involving rhino poaching in Assam was able to attract such punishment. This has created a ripple in the newly created first addition to Manas National Park, and augments improvement of law and order in BTC,” said Dr Bhaskar Choudhury of the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI).
In two other cases in February this year, Jay Ram Ray, Shibu Ram Ray and Rohen Boro were sentenced to seven years of rigorous imprisonment and Rs 50,000 fine, and in default of payment of fine, they would be further sentenced to simple imprisonment for another six months.
On the basis of a complaint filed by forester Manik Brahma under Kuklung forest range in October last year, the accused, Jay Ram Ray, was found guilty of possessing 4.2kg venison, three deer heads with antlers and a tortoise shell. The judgement was passed on February 18, 2019.
“I have registered at least 179 cases in my life from Kuklong Range of first addition to Manas National Park, and achieved conviction in only one case so far,” said Brahma (59).
The WTI and state forest department, in partnership with BTC and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), has been providing continuous training to over 500 frontline staff of the national park and first addition to the park since 2011. The training is conducted at various levels, emphasising only on preparation of correct full reports for trial courts and plugging procedural lapses.
“I have attended all training camps since 2013-14 and have gained the much-needed confidence to act against wildlife offenders. I can now hold my head high and am sure culprits now would know of the power of the forest department and wildlife laws. We will try and continue to motivate the younger generation of frontline forest staff so that they can keep the tempo going,” said Brahma, who recently attended another legal training camp mentored by WTI Chief Trainer Bhupendra Nath Talukdar.
In another case poachers Shibu Ram Ray and Rohen Boro were found to have entered into the national park and two deer carcasses, a handmade gun and eight hunting nets among other objects were found from them. They were also held guilty under Section 25(1-a) of the Arms Act. The judgment for this case was passed on February 8, 2019,
“Poor conviction rates have led to a spurt in wildlife crimes in Assam. This has been attributed to poor quality of complaint filing by forest staff, failure to provide adequate evidence in the trial court and procedural lapses,” said Dr Choudhury.
Speaking to News 18, Honorary Wildlife Warden Kaushik Baruah expressed hope that the judgments would help check other wildlife crimes, including elephant and leopard deaths in Assam.
“These are exemplary judgements, which will have a positive impact on protection of wildlife in the state. Assam is experiencing a rise in unnatural elephant and leopard deaths by humans. Such judgements will deter people from such activities in future,” said Baruah.
The government of Assam amended the Wildlife Protection Act in 2009, which has included hunting outside the boundary of a national park or wildlife sanctuary is as offence punishable under Section 51 of the Act.