In a landmark judgment in Assam which could have a positive impact on the acute problem of rhino poaching in the state, a fast track court on wildlife crimes on May 25 sentenced a poacher to 7 years in prison besides asking to pay a fine of Rupees twenty five thousand.
This judgment assumes significance as it is the first conviction in the recently set up fast track wildlife court in the state. After coming under immense pressure over the issue of rampant poaching in state, the Assam government had constituted 10 fast track courts for wildlife related offenses.
According to Assam forest and wildlife minister Pramila Rani Brahma, poachers have killed 239 rhinos in the state from 2001 to July 2016. “Also between the period July 2016 to April 2017, 49 rhinos had died and the horn of only 19 of those could be recovered, so the others are likely to be poaching cases,” said Brahma.
HK Sarma, register general of the Gauhati High Court vide a notification dated November 28, 2016 had stated that, “The Gauhati High Court is pleased to designate the senior most additional sessions judge, and where there is no additional sessions judge, the sessions judge, in the districts of Golaghat, Jorhat, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Nagaon, Sonitpur, Barpeta, Cachar, Darrang and Udalguri as fact track court, for expeditious disposal of cases under the wildlife (protection) Act, 1972, and under cases of Forest offences under other Acts, which are triable by court of Sessions”.
This first conviction has been of Sukdev Kutum, a resident of the Dhanbari village in the Golaghat district, and he had confessed of killing two rhinos in the Kaziranga National park and selling their horns in the town of Dimapur in Nagaland.
The verdict was delivered by the fast track court at Golaghat.
Additional sessions judge A.U. Ahmed, in his verdict stated, “Rhinos are umbrella species and this means their survival or demise directly impacts the survival or demise of other species of mammals, birds, insects, fish and plants. They play a big role in the ecosystem. In the last Bihu season, a group of children had come out on the road carrying slogans like ‘stop killing the rhino’. It was also found a group of people have become active in killing animals which are our friends. Considering all aspects, the killing of animals can be stopped only if the offender is punished stringently”.
Officials of the Assam forest and wildlife department have also said that earlier the conviction rate among poachers was very low, but now these courts will help, and could act as deterrent to poaching.
“Earlier conviction for wildlife crimes was very low, but now everyone will know that people can be convicted for wildlife crimes and sent to jail for even seven years. This is a very positive development,” said Satyendra Singh, director of the Kaziranga National Park to the media. On being approached, Brahma said that once conviction goes up, poachers will start fearing about wildlife crimes, and these crimes will slowly come down.