The auditors say insufficient evidences and procedural lapses were the major reasons behind the 22 per cent conviction rate
In the past 17 years, Kerala has registered 630 wildlife offences and of them only 20 have seen convictions, according to report by Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.
The auditors found this by collating data from 10 wildlife divisions in the state since 2000. “Some of the reasons for the low rate of convictions were inability of the investigating officers to gather and produce proper and sufficient evidences to establish the crime, failure in producing the articles seized at the crime spot, and procedural lapses,” says the report.
According to the forest code, when a forest official below the rank of range officer (RO) detects a forest offence, he should submit a detailed report to the RO within 24 hours. Then, the RO has to conduct an enquiry and submit a report to the Divisional Forest Officer (DFO).
Of the 630 offences registered, 71 saw acquittals, 144 were either dropped or compounded and 395 are pending (230 in court and 165 at divisional level).
The audit also found that the Wayanad wildlife division booked 26 cases under the Kerala Forest Act, instead of the Wildlife Protection Act, thereby reducing the gravity of these offences.
To this, the Kerala government said regular refresher courses were being conducted by the state forest institutes regarding wildlife crime investigation and the trend was changing.
“The problem is with the investigation, the evidence gathering like forensics evidences. The forest department doesn’t have the ability or the human resource to carry out all these activities and achieve high level of conviction. Many positions are vacant and the foresters aren't trained in these investigative processes,” says Ravi Chellam, wildlife expert and CEO, Metastring Foundation, a Bangalore-based non-profit working on issues related to biodiversity.
Also, the cultivable land lease issued by the forest department within the Reserve Forest of Wayanad Plateau under the Madras Forest Act, 1882, had not been renewed since 2004, find the auditors. “In 1973, an extent of 344.40 sq km of the reserve forest including leased out lands was notified as Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS) under the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary Rules, 1973. Section 33 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 does not permit construction of permanent buildings within the sanctuary area other than for sanctuary purpose,” the audit report reads.
It adds that the leased out land was not taken by the forest department and the present occupiers of the erstwhile leased out land were not the original lessees.
“The assistant wildlife warden in his field inspection report in December 2012 said 13 residential buildings and 19 commercial buildings, 3-40 years old were illegally built on the land near Muthanga check post. No action was taken by the department to remove these unauthorised structures despite being empowered to do so under Section 34A of the Act,” the audit report says.
The state told the CAG that eviction process was difficult, and it would create law and order issues.
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