On Salman verdict day, grey areas in tackling wildlife cases come to fore

Lawmen point out poor training, lack of co-ordination among forest dept, lawyers

Conviction of actor Salman Khan in the Black Buck case might have cheered wildlife activists, but Karnataka has a long way to go in ensuring that poachers and hunters are sent to jail.

Serving and retired judges and public prosecutors point out that there is lack of coordination between the lawyers and the forest officials in booking cases and bringing the accused to book. They also point out that there is insufficient training on how to file complaints before magistrates and to pursue the cases.

"Over the past 10 years, merely 100-150 wildlife cases are pending before the court for hearing. This does not mean that there are no wildlife cases. But it shows that there are gaps in filing cases, due to which they are quashed at an early stage," said a High Court judge.

The Karnataka Judicial Academy, for the past few years, is training public prosecutors on how to pursue wildlife-related cases. But Academy members point out that there were no special lawyers working with the forest department in such cases.

There are exceptions like Justice A V Chandrashekhar and public prosecutor Mahesh Vaidya, who are now training lawyers and are working with forest officials on wildlife cases.

A public prosecutor who recently filed a case for the department said the staff was not aware of basic wildlife laws which can strengthen their case. For instance, Section 55 (8) of the Wildlife Protection Act says there is no need to file an FIR and that the court can take cognisance after a complaint is filed with a magistrate. But not many are aware of this.

"Police officials and lawyers do not know that in wildlife cases, FIR need not be filed. In 2009, the government issued a notification that the police should not file FIR in wildlife cases," he said.

Praveen Bhargav, Trustee Wildlife First, said that there was a need for special funding for wildlife cases. There is also a request pending before the forest department to speed up cases pertaining to Schedule 1 and 2 of the Wildlife Protection Act.

Priya Mishra, assistant professor, National Law School of India University, said that not many students were taking up specialisation in wildlife crime, like say cases pertaining to narcotics or corruption. This is because the number of cases is not big and it is a public-spirited area.

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