Chhattisgarh forest department wants to improve conviction in wildlife offences, issues strict directions for officers
The forest department has also decided that if any officer will not follow the directives, departmental action will be taken against him/her.Updated: Aug 09, 2020 11:45 IST
Worried over low conviction rate in wildlife offences, the Chhattisgarh forest department has issued directives to its officials to strictly follow the Wildlife Protection Act and instructed that the statement of the witnesses in a case should be recorded by an officer not below the rank of Assistant Conservator of Forest (ACF) in the presence of the accused.
The department has also moved a proposal to the government seeking permission to get call detail records and locations of the accused people during the course of the investigation, for which the department is not presently authorised.
However, activists claimed that the directives issued by the Chhattisgarh forest department is already in Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and show that department has not followed the act seriously which is reason behind the high acquittal rate.
The directive has been issued on August 6 to the field officers following other directions to cope-up with the problem of high acquittal rate in wildlife offences in the state.
“This is fact that in most of the cases in which acquittal took place, the sections of Wildlife Protection Act was not followed. In last three years, more than 150 cases of wildlife have been registered in which the field forest officers have investigated the cases and charge sheeted in appropriate courts of law but the scrutiny of the earlier wildlife offence cases revealed that the acquittal rate is very high. In around 90 per cent of the cases the accused get acquitted in the court,” said an IFS officer of Chhattisgarh, on condition of anonymity.
The main reason being that the statement of the witness is nearly all cases till now were recorded in front of Range Officer not Assistant Conservator of Forest (ACF) in the presence of the accused, officer claimed.
“Most of the ACF officers don’t want to involved in these cases because of apathy and court cases and hence acquittals took place,” added the officer.
The forest department has also decided that if any officer will not follow the directives, departmental action will be taken.
“We have clearly mentioned in our directive that action will be taken if it is not followed. The instructions to all the field officers says that all wildlife crime will be investigated by an officer not below the rank of Range Officer (RO) as the RO is empowered by the government to place challan in the court. Further it has also been directed that the statement of the witnesses will be recorded by an officers not below the rank of Assistant Conservator of Forest (ACF) in the presence of accused person,” said Additional Principal Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) Arun Kumar Pandey talking to Hindustan Times.
This has been instructed to ensure that the statement recorded in this way will be admissible in the court of law during trial.
It is worth mentioning that section 50(9) of Wildlife Protection Act 1972 gives a unique power to forest officers (of the rank ACF and above) that the statements recorded by them of witnesses in presence of accused will be admissible in the court during trial. In simple words, magisterial power with respect to statements of witnesses has been given to ACF rank forest officers.
“The department has also moved a proposal to the government seeking permission to get call detail records and live tower locations of the accused persons during the course of investigation and also to form a special task force for investigation of the wildlife crime,” said Pandey.
The wildlife activists claimed that the directive reflects how serious Chhattisgarh forest department was about the wildlife crime.
“After so many years, the department has now realised about the implementation of Wildlife Act reflects the seriousness of department. Secondly, the department should focus of capacity building of its officials, which are very apathetic about the wildlife crime. The forest officers are least bothered about the crime investigation,” said Meetu Gupta, member of the State Wildlife Board.
Chhattisgarh’s 44 per cent area is forest with three tiger reserves, namely Udanti-Sitanadi Tiger Reserve, Achanakmar Tiger Reserve and Indravati Tiger Reserve, and two national parks - Kanger Valley National Park and Gurughasidas National Park. The state also has eight sancturies - Barnawapara, Bhoremdev, Gomarda, Bhairamgarh, Pamed, Semarsot, Badalkhol and Tamor-Pingla Sanctuary.