BHOPAL: The conviction and imprisonment of Salman Khan on Thursday has boosted the morale of Madhya Pradesh forest department, which is struggling with sluggish trials of 135 blackbuck poaching casesin the last 36 years.
Bhopal circle has the lion’s share of 46 cases — 15 of them between 2013 and 2015. Convictions are, however, few and far between — not even 5%, as per official figures. “The judgment in the Salman Khan poaching case will certainly boost morale of our department. This is going to have a great impact on cases that are under trial,” said RiteshSirothia, assistant conservator of forest.
“Bhopal has registered five cases of blackbuck poaching in the last two months. Other cases were reported from Seoni, Betul, Hoshangabad, Sehore, Raisen and Vidisha districts,” said an officer of the state’s wildlife cell. Once found in abundance, black buck has registered a steady decline in population due to unbridled poaching.
Endowed with rich wildlife in its jungles, stretching across four districts, Bhopal circle had healthy populations of all varieties of deer. Shikaar has been outlawed for decades, but in Bhopal, ‘shikaris’ are still aplenty. In spite of tough antihunting laws, there is no dearth of Bhopalis whose meat fetish goes beyond chicken and lamb and who still think of hunting as sport. Sadly, very few of them are convicted, said sources in the forest department.
Forest officials, police and informers who have come across these hunters say the risk of jail doesn't deter them.
‘Forest officials shy away from probe due to low conviction rate’
One of lasting legacies of shikaar is the fact that many jeep enthusiasts still drive around with a net in the back although there is no trophy carcass to put in it. “Because of the low conviction rate, senior forest officials often shy away from investigation and pass it down to juniors despite being given extra powers in the Wildlife Protection Act,” said an officer.
According to law, only officers not below the rank of assistant director of wildlife preservation or assistant conservator of forests have the power to investigate. In November 2016, five special courts were designated to hear cases of wildlife protection. It led to encouraging results. Recently, in one of the fastest convictions of poachers in the country, an MP court jailed five poachers — including Sansarchand’s close aide Md Shamim — for four years each. Shamim alone has confessed to smuggling the hides of 125 tigers and 1,025 leopards from different parts of the country to China, say sources. Over 200 poachers have been chargesheeted by STF (wildlife).