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Wildlife crime: Strong prosecution must to back stringent law
STAFF Reporter
 GUWAHATI, Aug 2 – Although the State Government has enhanced the term for a person convicted of poaching by several years and even to life imprisonment in the case of a second offence, the situation vis-à-vis wildlife crime is unlikely to witness any positive change unless the abysmally low conviction rate is improved. Conservationist circles feel that in order to be an effective deterrent, the amendment in the law has to be backed by stronger prosecution because glaring lapses during investigation and trial have invariably been the biggest impediment in securing conviction of the accused.

“The State Forest department has a pathetic record in the matter of pursuance of cases concerning wildlife crime. More often than not, investigation of the cases and prosecution are done very casually and unprofessionally. It is hardly surprising then that the conviction rate is abysmally low in the State,” a conservationist said, adding, “Stronger punishment is always welcome but the preceding stages too need competent and professional handling for punishment to take place.”

According to a senior advocate specializing in wildlife crime, there is an urgent need for the Forest department and the State Government to address the lacunae at the stage of investigation and trial.

“Forest officials rarely attach any importance to the investigation part following the occurrence of a wildlife crime. Lack of coordination with police complicates matters further. All this invariably results in a weak case that is difficult to sustain in the court of law,” he said, adding that ignorance of wildlife laws among forest officials was another constraint.

A forest official, while agreeing with the need to have efficient investigation, said that lack of support from the higher authorities and constraints relating to logistics and infrastructure were at the root of the problem.

“When a wildlife crime takes place in a remote place, we ought to be at the site of the occurrence without wasting any time for gathering evidence. Unhindered movement is essential during the entire investigation stage. Unfortunately, we rarely get the support necessary for facilitating even the basic requirements,” he said, adding that the prevailing situation kills the dynamism and professionalism that field forest officials ought to have.

Pointing out that in many cases investigating agencies file chargesheet after a long period of time causing valuable links in the evidence to disappear and making it difficult to secure a conviction, the senior advocate said that in others the department fails to lead credible testimony and exhibit material objects resulting in acquittal of the accused.

“Unless the department makes out a strong case fortified by unimpeachable evidence collected in the course of a meticulously conducted investigation, the chance of an accused being brought to justice appears remote,” he said.

This apart, lack of requisite expertise and competence on the part of the lawyers entrusted with the responsibility of conducting prosecutions is another factor responsible for poor conviction. Inadequate knowledge of the prosecution staff about the basic process of law, like crime scene documentation, recording and preservation of evidence, and detailed investigation of cases to build up proper case history, invariably weakens the trial.

“The Forest department has to be proactive to secure improvements in the way cases of wildlife crime are investigated and prosecuted. Without this, enhancing the terms of punishment would remain a fruitless exercise,” he said. 

Forensic science too can support investigation to a great extent, especially when it relates to parts and products of an animal, which often becomes a matter of dispute, leading to discharge of cases.