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Seven convicted of holding ‘illegal lion show’ in Gir forest, get up to 3 yrs in jail

One accused was acquitted for want of evidence even as the court directed annulment of allotment to one of the convicts a stretch of forest land where the lion show was organised.

According to the prosecution led by special public prosecutor Geeta Sharma, before the incident, the convict had once tried to talk to the victim but she refused. (File)

A trial court on Monday convicted seven men, including three tourists from Ahmedabad, for luring an Asiatic lion with a chicken during an illegal lion show in Babariya range of Gir (west) wildlife division in 2018. The court sentenced them to rigorous imprisonment for up to three years and imposed a fine of Rs10,000 each.

One accused was acquitted for want of evidence even as the court directed annulment of allotment to one of the convicts a stretch of forest land where the lion show was organised.

The court of Sunilkumar Dave, judicial magistrate (first class) of Gir Gadhda, pronounced seven of the eight accused guilty under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 Sections 2(16)(b), 2(36), 9, 27, 39, 51 and 52, dealing with hunting of wild animals included on Schedule-I of the Act and illegally entering protected wildlife habitat.

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The accused who were convicted include Iliya Hoth, Ravi Patadiya, Divyang Gajjar, Rathin Patel, Abbas Ringbloch, Mangilal Meena and Altaf Bloch. The court sentenced Iliya, Pataidya, Gajjar, Patel, Ringblock and Altaf to three years of rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs 10,000 each, Meena was sentenced to one year of rigorous imprisonment and fined Rs 10,000. However, the court acquitted Hasam Kareja for want of evidence.

While Iliya is a resident of Dhrubakvadi, a forest settlement plot inside Gir (west) wildlife division near Gir Gadhda in Gir Somnath district, Ringbloch and Kareja are residents of Harmadiya village of Gir Gadhda taluka. Altaf is a resident of Mandorna village of Talala taluka taluka of Gir Somnath district while Meena, a native of Rajasthan is also a native of Bhojde village of Talala. Patadiya, Gajjar and Patel are residents of Ahmedabad.

According to prosecution’s case, Iliya, whose grandfather was allotted the forest land in Dhrubak by forest department for farming, invited Patadiya, Gajjar, Patel and Meena to his agricultural field to watch lions against payment of Rs 6,000. Ringbloch and Altaf brought live chicken to the farm on their bike to offer the bird as a bait to an Asiatic lion, Kareja abetted the crime.

“The court has treating baiting of lion on par with lion hunting and convicted the accused. This verdict is a result of meticulous investigation by and hard work of our field staff,” Dheeraj Mittal, deputy conservator of forests (DCF) of Gir (west) wildlife division, said.

According to case details, the accused assembled on Iliya’s farm inside the Gir forest, baited a lion with a live chicken to show the carnivores to the four tourists for money and recorded videos of the act on their mobile phones on the intervening night of May 18 and May 19, 2018. However, they were caught red-handed by a team of officers of Babariya range forest.

“The forest department made a CD of the videos and sent it for forensic analysis and found the videos were genuine. This proved to be clinching evidence against the accused,” Ajay Talavia, assistant public prosecutor (APP) of Gir Gadhda, told The Indian Express.

The APP said that Iliyas’ grandfather had been allotted the forest land for agricultural purposes and that Ringbloch, Altaf and Kareja are also Ilyas’ relatives who are cultivating that land or are helping doing it.

Videos of the illegal lion show had gone viral on social media later on even as local court had rejected bail application of the accused. However, save Iliya, the rest seven were released on bail subsequently. But Iliyas was in judicial custody till date.

“After pronouncing them guilty, the six sought stay on operation of sentence so that they can appeal against the trial court verdict. The court granted their plea after they paid up Rs10000 each towards fine. However, Iliyas did not sought stay on operation of sentence and therefore, he remains in judicial custody,” Talavia added.

Taking a serious view of the crime, the court also declared null and void the allotment of agricultural land in Dhumbak area of Babariya range to Iliyas’ forefathers. “Collector of Gir Somnath is hereby directed to cancel all permissions and approvals to the said land, take possession of the said land, confiscate it and report back to this court in a month’s time,” magistrate Dave wrote in his judgement.

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