It’s Pun­ish Or Per­ish

Open forests can­not and should not be for­ti­fied but ev­ery sound ar­rest must re­sult in con­vic­tion

Tehelka - - 20 -

poach­ers strike. Over the years, this has em­bold­ened the poach­ers, who now op­er­ate with a sense of im­punity.

We should have seen the cur­rent on­slaught com­ing if we re­mem­bered the har­vest­ing pat­tern. In the early 1990s, we lost many tigers. Ran­thamb­hore made head­lines when two for­est guards were am­bushed by Moghiya poach­ers in 1993. Then, the syn­di­cate waited for a decade to let tiger num­bers bounce back be­fore strik­ing big again dur­ing 2002-04, caus­ing the lo­cal ex­tinc­tion of tigers in Sariska and, sub­se­quently, Panna. Af­ter his ar­rest in 2005, Devi Singh Moghiya con­fessed that poach­ers har­nessed 22 Ran­thamb­hore tigers in 2003 alone. All along, the of­fi­cials were in de­nial.

The cul­mi­na­tion of the 10-year cy­cle this year has ac­ti­vated the poach­ing cells across the coun­try. For­tu­nately, the of­fi­cial re­sponse this time has shown a shift from the cus­tom­ary de­nial. De­spite oc­ca­sional re­sis­tance from the top brass, field of­fi­cers and en­force­ment agen­cies have man­aged to ar­rest a num­ber of poach­ers — some of them wanted for years — in the past few months.

But the good news ends there. Like in the past, these poach­ers are eye­ing bail and the ma­jor­ity may es­cape pu­n­ish­ment. Even af­ter the 2006 amend­ment of the Wildlife Pro­tec­tion Act, which cre­ated the Wildlife Crime Con­trol Bureau, the pros­e­cu­tion process has not im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly. The most prom­i­nent tiger killers now in po­lice cus­tody are ei­ther out on bail or have al­ready served lim­ited sen­tences.

The chal­lenge now is to send these re­peat of­fend­ers be­hind bars and keep them there as long as pos­si­ble. While we are happy hold­ing only Sansar Chand (wife Rani runs his syn­di­cate) and Shab­bir Has­san Quereshi (son Sar­faraz con­trols the fam­ily busi­ness), all other king­pins are still ac­tive. Some, like Tashi Tsh­er­ing, are busy in Nepal. Oth­ers, like Pema Thin­ley, op­er­ate from China and Ti­bet. At the other end of their net­work are mostly name­less shoot­ers and trap­pers, silently har­vest­ing wild cats from forests across In­dia.

To tackle this threat, the NTCA has in­stalled E-eyes, a ther­mal im­agery sys­tem, in Cor­bett for round-the-clock sur­veil­lance. It would do bet­ter to set up ded­i­cated le­gal cells in ev­ery for­est division and hire or train hand­picked of­fi­cers to make ro­bust cases ev­ery time a poacher is ar­rested. Chances of merely get­ting caught never de­ter crim­i­nals un­less they learn to fear ex­em­plary pu­n­ish­ment.

• Hacked Poach­ers breached seven tiger re­serves, in­clud­ing Tadoba, this year

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