Nailing poachers, a first for Gujarat
Times of India
Ten Asiatic lions were poached between March and April 2007 in Junagadh and Amreli districts and initially, three different offences were registered. To begin with, they were investigated by Forests department. However, with registering of successive offences and the toll increasing to 10 lions, state government handed over the investigation to CID crime, which was investigating a case related to wildlife for the first time.
The case assumed importance as lions were poached for the first time in the country. Also, poaching of 10 lions at a stretch revealed international dimensions because there is no market for their body parts in India. For police officers in Gujarat investigating this wildlife crime, there was hardly any precedent to know the criminals and their modus-operandi. It was thus a blind case to investigate. NGOs like Wildlife Protection Society of India and Wildlife Trust of India came to the rescue in identifying poachers and their profile. All the information was pooled and dispatched to district units and finally all these efforts led to the arrest of poachers of 'Baheliya' from Madhya Pradesh.
Then began the process of collecting evidence under the close supervision of forensic experts. Forensic evidence from matchstick, button, bandage, footprints, eatables, weapons, blood splatters, clothes, nails, utensils, excreta (of children) etc., finally led to arrest of poachers. Subsequently polygraph and narco-analysis of the accused was undertaken. Special public prosecutors from trial court to the Supreme Court were appointed to fight the case. None of the 20 accused arrested were able to secure bail in any of the court due to the solid investigation. The links of the poachers were found in Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Evidence led to the arrest of a trader from Karnataka called Prabhakar Gaza Kosh. Arrest was also made of Shabbir Hussein Qureshi in Lucknow. Enforcement Directorate of UP have registered a case of money laundering against him and seized his entire property. Enforcement Directorate, Ahmedabad is shortly to begin such an investigation against the accused here. This was the first case of wildlife crime where 20 accused were convicted at a national level in one go due to forensic evidence. No case of poaching has been reported thereafter. (The writer, an IPS officer, headed the CID crime when investigation was being conducted into the lion poaching case)
It was a rare conviction for wildlife crime in India by a senior division judicial magistrate first class court of Junagadh in October 2008. Twenty people, including three women, were sentenced to three years imprisonment with Rs 10,000 fine each, for poaching lions in the Gir forest of Gujarat.