In 2010,Assam had set a trend by giving forest officials the licence to fire on poachers without fear of criminal proceedings. And Maharashtra,says Assams Forest Minister Rockybul Hussain,had taken copies of the Assam provisions for framing its new measures.
When poaching went up a few years ago in Assam,a state with five national parks,17 wildlife sanctuaries and five elephant reserves,the state government invoked or enacted two laws. Apart from the one providing immunity to forest protection staff in incidents of firing,the other raised the penal provisions for poachers found guilty.
Sub-section (3) of section 197 of the CrPC 1973 (2 of 1974),adopted in 2010 for wildlife protection,provides immunity to all forest personnel,from the PCCF down to the game watcher,against any criminal procedure in the event of causing death to a person while discharging their duties. The Wildlife (Protection) (Assam Amendment) Act 2009 has made first-time poaching punishable by imprisonment from seven to ten years in place of the earlier provisions of three to seven years. For a second offence,the quantum of punishment will extend from ten years to life imprisonment. Moreover,poaching has now become a non-bailable offence in Assam.
These measures have given a massive boost to the morale of the forest protection staff,now that they are no longer unnecessarily dragged to the court until a magisterial probe recommends such a measure, said Hussain.
In 2010,the year when forest officials were granted immunity from proceedings if they have shot someone while discharging their duties,nine poachers were killed in Kaziranga,apart from 11 arrested. The number killed came down to three in 2011 and to one so far this year (apart from seven arrested),possibly an indication of poachers being wary of the increased powers given to forest personnel. This is in spite of the poachers being heavily armed,as is evident from the seizures: seven .303 rifles,16 handmade guns and two .22 bore pistols in 2010,and 17 guns this year.
All parks and sanctuaries in Assam will soon have the 2nd Battalion Assam Forest Protection Force deployed. The AFPF is a 700-strong force with sophisticated weapons. This battalion has already undergone intensive commando training and will bring about a sea-change in protection, the minister said.
Assam has historically laid the highest focus on wildlife protection. That the number of rhinos increased from just about a dozen to more than 1,800 in Kaziranga in 100 years bears testimony to this, he said. The new laws have helpd Kaziranga bag the Central governments award for excellence in wildlife protection.