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 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 a judgment pronounced by the additional sessions judge 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 court the examination reports which stated that the hare was found dead of 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 judge Naim Uddin Ahmed in the court order.
Moreover, during examination of accused, Dhojen Tudu admitted of hunting the animals and birds along with Somnath Kisku by using ‘hunting dog’. The animal carcasses were recovered by 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 in the history of Assam. This has created a ripple in the newly created first addition to Manas National Park, and augments improvement of law and order situation in BTC, Assam,” 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 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, accused Jay Ram Ray was found guilty of possessing 4.2 kg venison, three deer heads with antlers, and a tortoise shell. The judgment 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 59-year-old forester, Manik Brahma.
The WTI and the Assam Forest Department in partnership with BTC and International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has been providing continuous training to over 500 frontline staff of Manas National Park and First addition to the park for past seven years beginning 2011. The training is conducted at various levels, emphasizing only on preparation of correct full reports for the 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 I am sure the culprits now would know of the power of 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,” added Brahma who recently attended another legal training camp mentored by WTI chief trainer Bhupendra Nath Talukdar.
In another judgment passed on February 8, 2019, poachers Shibu Ram Ray and Rohen Boro were found to have entered into Manas national park — two deer carcasses, a handmade gun and eight hunting nets among other objects were found from their possession. They were also held guilty under Section 25(1-a) of the Arms Act.
“Poor conviction rates have led to a spurt in wildlife crime in Assam. The extremely dismal record of convictions has been attributed to poor quality of complaint filing by forest staff, failure to provide adequate evidences in the trial court, and procedural lapses (Wildlife Crime Control Bureau),” said Dr. Choudhury.
News18, honorary wildlife warden Kaushik Baruah expressed hope that the judgments will help check other wildlife crime 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, according to which hunting outside the boundary of a national park or wildlife sanctuary is also included as offence punishable under section 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act.