WWF-India organizes training workshop on wildlife laws and crime scene investigation in Assam
A part of Kaziranga National Park falls within Golaghat district which is a critical wildlife crime region facing immense poaching pressures. Available wildlife crime data have shown that poachers traditionally use roads passing through Golaghat district to reach Karbi Anglong and onwards to Dimapur in Nagaland. Based on these findings, it was determined that it would prove useful to enhance the capacities of the enforcement officials of the district, which would consequently improve vigilance over poaching and wildlife trade. The Forest Division of Golaghat headed by the DFO, Dr C. Muthukumaravel, IFS collaborated and extended support to organize this workshop.
The workshop began with a talk by Dr Anupam Sarmah, Head, WWF-India, Assam Landscapes, who welcomed the participants and explained the need for organizing the workshop while outlining the activities of WWF in the region. Dr Sarmah also emphasized on the role of the forest officials and the police in dealing with the rise in rhino poaching and wildlife crime. Following this, Dr C. Muthukumaravel described the forest and wildlife scenario in the district and the various sources of anthropogenic pressure that have been rapidly depleting the forest cover over the past three decades. He shared that the division had set up a wildlife crime control cell recently to deal with the menace of poaching. He stressed that good coordination with the police department was essential to controlling wildlife crime and said that several efforts are being made to streamline these processes. The Deputy Superintendent (HQ) & SDPO, Sarupathar then reiterated the seriousness of wildlife crime and the need to understand and deal with the situation.
Mr Saurabh Sharma, an Advocate, Delhi High Court, and wildlife lawyer, hired as a consultant by WWF-India, was the primary resource person at the workshop and began the first session with a pre-training assessment of the participants. Important sections of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 were discussed with special focus on Section 2: Definitions. This was important in order to clarify these specific aspects with the attendees. The sessions included discussions on cases which were critical and interesting from which the participants could take cues. Mr Sharma also discussed cases related to Sansar Chand, a notorious wildlife poacher and his associates among others.
In the evening session, the Public Prosecutor Mr D. P. Jaiswal spoke at length on the routine cases that come up in Golaghat courts and why they do not lead to conviction. He explained the tactics employed by defense lawyers who always play for time and try to delay hearings, which inevitably lead to cases becoming weak. He pointed at weak investigations and documentation, which, in most cases, lead to the accused getting an acquittal. He emphasized the need for following proper procedures rigorously by the police and forest personnel before taking the cases to court as well as while contributing to the cases.
The Superintendent of Police, Golaghat Mr Shiladitya Chetia, IPS, also spoke on the wildlife crime scenario in the district and pledged to help and cooperate with the Forest Department in controlling crime. Mr Chetia expressed his appreciation of the initiative that WWF and the Forest Department had taken to organize the workshop, which he believed was much needed.
On the second day of the workshop, Mr Soumen Dey, Associate Coordinator, Assam Landscape, WWF-India highlighted the wildlife crime scenario in and around Assam that extends to international borders. In the presentation, the trade nexus was discussed between the local levels ‘field men’, the middlemen or ‘mahajan’ from adjoining areas and the shooters, mostly from neighbouring states. The trade routes leading out of Assam through Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Mizoram were also shared with the participants based on the investigations over the past couple of years. The emerging role of extremist organization in rhino poaching was highlighted. Use of available technology to investigate crime was stressed in the presentation.
"Golaghat is a critical district when it comes to wildlife crime and trafficking given that a part of Kaziranga NP falls within the district and also because the district is a conduit for movement of traffickers to Nagaland and beyond. Hence, WWF felt it necessary to orient the enforcement officials of the district on wildlife laws and related matters," said Soumen Dey, Associate Coordinator, WWF-India.
In the subsequent session, the participants who were divided into four groups investigated mock cases. A senior police or forest official led each group as they investigated the cases. After the groups completed investigation they were asked to present the same before the audience and subjected to cross-questioning. The exercise highlighted loopholes that remain in documentation and the same were corrected to show how paperwork could be strengthened to increase chances of conviction.
Post-lunch the participants were divided into crime scene investigation groups at a place where a crime scene was enacted. Each team investigated the spot and prepared their seizure reports and presented the same. Emphasis was placed on recording minute details during seizure, which negated the chances of the exhibits being questioned during a trial. The process of collection of evidence and the precautions that need to be taken during the process were also reiterated and discussed.
The workshop culminated with a summarization of topics by the DFO Golaghat division and a vote of thanks from Ms Dipika Chaudhary, IFS, ACF, Golaghat Forest Division. Over 80 participants attended the workshop.