In what is being hailed as the fastest ever conviction in a tiger poaching case, three persons were sentenced to a five year jail term each by Chief Judicial Magistrate Jayant Raje in Amravati Wednesday.
Brothers Madhusingh Rathod and Chintaram Rat-hod along with Vinod Pawar were convicted of killing a tigress in March 2013 on the basis of a forensic report by Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, which confirmed that the DNA of the rotten flesh and blood recovered from the spot matched the samples of the accused persons’ nails. The court ordered separate trial of a fourth person for turning hostile after agreeing to become approver.
The poaching cases had rocked Maharashtra between 2012 and 2013 and left over 16 tigers, two leopards and a sloth bear dead. Officials acted on a tip off on March 4, 2013 about tiger poaching at Dhakana near Melghat Tiger Forest Reserve. Six persons were arrested and their nails clippings were sent for DNA analysis. A cyber cell was set up at the forest department to trace call records and identify how the skin and bones of the tigress were sold to persons in Delhi and Nepal.
“It has been the fastest conviction ever,” Pravinsingh Pardeshi, principal secretary, Department of Forests, Maharashtra, said. Since the arrests were made and court cases were filed, the entire process took seven to eight months. A total of 45 persons were arrested and 10 cases were filed, he added.
Vishal Mali, assistant conservator of forest, Gugamal Division, Melghat Tiger Project, said investigations showed “a huge racket was in place”.
One Ranjit Singh from Hoshiarpur in Punjab was arrested for purchasing the skin and bones from poachers and then selling it to one Sarju from Haryana. Sarju was tracked through phone records and caught with tiger bones and Rs 2.75 lakh in cash. He told forest department officials the skin and bones were sold to one Chacha alias Suraj Pal in Delhi. During a raid at Pal’s house by the Delhi Police, 18 tiger claws Rs 50 lakh in cash was seized. Investigators also said Singh had switched 36 mobile phones and SIM cards to evade arrest.
Honorary wildlife warden at Amravati Vishal Bansod said the poaching of one tigress had exposed a vast network. “We eventually discovered the amount involved in selling the skin and bones of the tiger was nearly Rs 1 crore,” Bansod said.