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This article has been written by Ishan Puri, pursuing a Certificate Course in Criminal Law, Litigation and Trial Advocacy from LawSikho.com.

Introduction

To maintain an ecological balance it is pertinent that crimes against wildlife be reduced. There is great economical value in wildlife for the humans as wildlife sanctuaries, biological parks etc. provide two fold benefits. One, they are a source for employment for many. Secondly, they provide recreational value in terms of nature safaris, nature photography and bird watching. 

Concept of wildlife crime

Wildlife crime can be defined as taking, possession, trade or movement, processing, consumption of wild animals and plants or their derivatives in contravention of any international, regional, or national legislation(s). Hunting and illegal trade are the major wildlife offences. All other offences like preparation, possession, transportation, processing etc are ancillary offences. A major problem with the lack of awareness is due to two major reasons. One, is the fact that the wildlife crimes are often committed with crimes such as theft, drug abuse, trespass of property etc. but such crimes are very location specific. This means that people are generally not directly affected by the commission of such offences and the public doesn’t come forward voluntarily to report it whereas crimes against the state instil a state of fear in the people. Secondly, wildlife crimes have only recently become outlawed and held positions of valour and historical importance in the society. There are cave paintings in the forests of Mudumalai (in Southern India) as well as in Bhimbetka (in Central India) depicting scenes from a hunt. Moreover, there are mentions in the Ramayana whereby King Dashrat accidentally injured Shravan in a hunt. Later on, when East India came to India, they regarded hunting as a reflection of virtues like diligence, patience and skill. More recently, we study stories of hunting in the class 12 CBSE English course in the form of the story “The Tiger King”. 

Laws concerning protection of wildlife

Wildlife includes any animal, aquatic or land vegetation which forms part of any habitat. Wildlife is the native flora and fauna of a particular region and there is a desperate need to save the wildlife to preserve the gift of nature. Article 48A of the Indian Constitution provides for “the State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.” Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution says it is the duty “to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures”. In 1986, The Environment Act was enacted to provide for protection of the environment which helps in preserving the habitat of the animals. In 2002, the Biological Diversity Act was enacted to regulate the benefits of arising out of use of biological resources. Most importantly, the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 (WLPA) has been enacted for the purpose of providing more constitutional protection to the wildlife. 

The Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972

The WLPA provides for protection of endangered species of plants and animals while also providing for establishment of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks. The act aids in regulation and protection of trade of parts and products derived from wildlife. 

Some of the powers in the said act include; Chapter 3 restricts hunting of wild animals except in certain limited circumstances, Chapter 4 which empowers the state government to declare any area as a sanctuary or a wildlife park, Chapter 6 makes the violation of the Act a criminal offence. 

Indian Penal Code

The IPC provides for protection of animals in section 428 and 429. The sections provide for mischief by maiming or killing animals with fine and imprisonment up to 5 years. 

Procedure

State Forest and Police Departments are the primary enforcement agencies with regards to wildlife crimes. Wildlife crimes are also investigated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) with the permission of State Governments concerned.

  • Collection of intelligence: 

Wildlife crimes are turning into organised criminal advents. Since these crimes are not voluntarily reported by the people often, the authorities have to make people aware often and try to create a network of sources and informants to keep a check on potential threats and details of such should be maintained by the Forest/Wildlife or police officer. The help of higher authorities like WCCB (Wildlife Crime Control Bureau) HQ in Delhi can be sought if action cannot be taken in some particular jurisdictions. 

  • Registration of Cases: 

The investigation starts with the registration of cases as First Information Report (FIRs). Recovery of evidence generally happens after the registration in most cases but in wildlife crime, it can happen before the registration as well. Most of the offences in the act are cognizable and therefore the police is required to lodge the FIR and investigate the case like any other offence. However, the courts shall take cognizance only on the complaint filed by any person under section 55 of the Act. If the police officer in the state is not an authorised person then the complaint shall be submitted by an authorized forest officer.  The first report submitted in the jurisdictional court in wildlife crimes cases is the Wildlife Offence Report (WLOR) under Section 50(4) of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972. 

  • Search and seizure: 

Search and Seizure is made as per provisions of Section 50 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act. The procedure prescribed under Section 100 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.PC) should be followed strictly. Every fact and event must be recorded in the Search and Seizure Memo in minute details. Any officer conducting a search should have reasonable grounds that an offence has been committed to conducting said search. Punishment for wrongful seizure is provided under Section 53 of the WLPA. This helps guarantee least manipulations and utmost care to carry a search.

  • Arrest:

Forest/ police officers not below the rank of Sub-Inspector are empowered to arrest under Section 50(1)(c) and 50(3) of the Wildlife Protection Act. The proceedings of the same shall be recorded on an Arrest cum Personal Search Memo with the reasons. The intimation of the arrest should be given to next of kin. The accused should be provided with medical care if necessary before producing him in court. Importantly, all pages of the memo must be signed by the accused, the independent witnesses and the investigating officer. 

  • Investigation and complaint:

The word ‘investigation’ has no mention in the WLPA. Therefore, provisions of search, arrest, bail, collection of evidence given in Code of Criminal Procedure. Section 50 of the WLPA provides for power to enter any place where the wildlife materials are suspected to be kept, conduct search etc. The prime objective of crime scene investigation in the incidences of poaching or unnatural death of wild animals is to establish (i) how the animal was killed, (ii) where the animal was killed and (iii) what could be the possible date & time of killing, and (iv) who killed the animal. A Crime Scene Inspection Memo should be prepared. The evidence recorded by an authorised officer under section 50(8) (d) of the WLPA, in presence of the accused is admissible as evidence. 

  • Compounding of offences:

Compounding of offences should only be done as an exception with due care under Section 54 of the WLPA. In cases involving hunting, illegal trade or habitual offenders, compounding should not be done. 

  • Prosecution of cases in courts:

Trials under Section 55 of the WLPA are conducted under the provisions of Section 244 to 248 of the Cr.PC. 

  • Role of supervisory officers:

The officers are required to oversee the investigations and visit scenes of offence while maintaining a diary of record of the offences in their jurisdictions. 

  • Post-trial action:

A Deputy Conservator of Forests(DCF) or Assistant Conservator of Forests(ACF) must analyse the copies of wildlife crime cases given by trial courts and forwarded to higher authorities with comments. In case of conviction, adequate punishment must be given. In case of acquittal, the DCF must comment and order forwarded to the legal cell if there is a scope for appeal. 

Conclusion

Poaching of wildlife is an organised international illegal activity which generates massive amounts of money for criminals. The global wildlife population has suffered a loss of 60% between 1970 and 2014 and before this situation worsens, we need to preserve the wildlife of our country as India provides for a rich base for their survival as it contributes about 8 percent of known global wildlife. There are numerous medicinal values in animals in the forest. It is pertinent to save wildlife to preserve ecological balance in the society.

References

  1. http://wccb.gov.in/WriteReadData/userfiles/file/Wildlife%20Crime%20Investigation%20Manual.pdf
  2. http://www.wpsi-india.org/publications/Offences_under_WPA_%20Case_Law.pdf
  3. http://mpforest.gov.in/hrd/trainingmodule/Wildlife/19-Wildlife%20Crime%20and%20Legal%20Issues.pdf
  4. http://nbaindia.org/uploaded/Biodiversityindia/Legal/15.%20Wildlife%20(Protection)%20Act,%201972.pdf
  5. https://parivesh.nic.in/writereaddata/WildlifeProtectionAmendmentBill2013.pdf

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