HAVING lost 89 tigers and 169 leopards in the past 15 years,the state government has reopened 50 cases of wildlife crimes pending since 1996. CBI is training forest officers to crack the cases. The aim is to bring down pendency,as 90 per cent of the cases are stuck at the investigation or trial level. The cases reopened are those involving species under schedule 1 (animals provided absolute protection) of Wildlife (Protection) Act.
NGO Wildlife Protection Society of India has listed 258 cases from across the state,including 26 registered in Mumbai,a targeted wildlife trade city.
Other targeted districts are Amravati,Bhandara,Chandrapur,Gondia,Gadchiroli,Nagpur,Thane and Kolhapur,which are home to nearly 90 per cent of tigers and leopards in Maharashtra. The state has 200 adult tigers and a few hundred cubs. Several pre-1996 cases are pending before courts or are unsolved,but only hopeful cases have been revived,principal secretary (forest) Praveen Pardeshi said.
Keshav Kumar,CBI western region head,prepared a training module for forest officers and judicial members in January. An expert in wildlife forensics who helped in conviction of 45 lion poachers in Gir,he has been helping the forest department since Our officers never looked at forensic details such as bloodstains or sent hair/nails found at crime scenes for DNA sampling. We have started doing this now, Pardeshi said.
At a workshop held at the judicial academy in Uttan earlier this year,Kumar taught investigation techniques to forest officers,public prosecutors,magistrates and NGOs. The knowledge helped solve and ensure conviction in a case of leopard electrocution in Gondia district on December 2 last year. Assistant conservators of forest and range forest officers applied conventional techniques used in murder or other cases related to humans
for the first time. Witness statements were recorded and the accused,Ravi Dhurve,was identified after studying call data records from a nearby mobile tower dump. Dhurve is still behind bars. Pardeshi said the officers convinced the magistrate that the offence under schedule 1 of Wildlife Act was non-bailable.
Deputy conservator of forests S V Ramarao said: We convinced the villagers not to help the accused (if he was granted bail). A strong message had to be sent. The forest department has directed deputy conservators of forests to appoint legal counsels in their regions. Most public prosecutors fighting wildlife cases also fight other cases. We have sought counsels to handle only wildlife cases, Pardeshi said. This will ensure a prosecutor is not transferred midway affecting a trial.