Assam: Body parts of wild animals seized in Manas National Park, 5 poachers held
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Guwahati: The simple reason is that the forest officials who are investigating the cases have not properly collected evidence and prepared the cases, leaving significant gaps that help criminals avoid being held accountable for their actions.

The International Rhino Foundation partnered with the Assam Forest Department to create a Wildlife Crime Investigation Manual. This aims to boost successful prosecutions under Assam’s strict wildlife protection laws, which include a minimum 7-year prison term for first-time offenders and up to 10 years for repeat convictions.

The 460-page manual has been authored by Rahul Dutta, the Intelligence Specialist at the International Rhino Foundation.

The first edition of this manual was released in 2015 and has now been revised to reflect changes in wildlife laws since then. This update was necessary as wildlife laws have evolved. The manual is designed to serve as a tool that offers step-by-step guidance on conducting investigations and filing cases in court.

Rahul Dutta stated that changes in investigative approaches have emerged from successful and unsuccessful cases since 2015. Neglect of certain Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) guidelines was also noted, prompting the need for a revised manual. Although the revamp process began in 2018, it faced COVID-related delays. Fortunately, these delays coincided with the 2022 amendment of the Wildlife Protection Act by the Central government. This update integrated relevant portions and CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) provisions into the manual.

The manual comprises 13 chapters covering preliminary investigations, legal aspects, case documentation, accused’s arrest and remand, evidence collection, search protocols, complaint filing in court, and more. It refers to procedures like shown arrest and transit remand, and addresses FAQs on wildlife crime. A chapter on case laws offers insights from higher courts, while model forms aid in procedures like arrest and seizure. It also offers offense classification for proper charge determination.

Regarding the objective of imprisoning wildlife offenders, Rahul Dutta said, “This manual aims to increase the conviction rate by allowing proper investigations. Mere arrest and a few months in  judicial custody does not make the law deterrent.”

The manual has ingredients specific to Assam as the government in 2009 made punishment higher and that in turn made cases triable in Sessions court. “The level of investigation and its documentation needs are higher as 7 years imprisonment is not a matter of joke and improper way of handling cases has been quashed in High Court after conviction was given by sessions court,” Dutta added.

The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Head of Forest Force, M K Yadava, states in the foreword of the manual that although this wildlife crime investigation manual is a vital resource for forest officials, it can also be useful for police officers to understand various sections of the Wildlife Protection Act such as handling wildlife cases under IPC, 1860. “By providing practical guidance and sound advice, this guide will help ensure that wildlife crime is detected and investigated effectively, and that those responsible are convicted in court,” Yadava says.

The manual will be distributed to officers in the Forest Department and police officers who may not be as familiar with wildlife laws but are often involved in wildlife crime cases.

The International Rhino Foundation noted that while many rangers and security personnel in rhino range states receive anti-poaching training and funding for on-the-ground equipment and operations, the training they receive is mostly geared towards catching poachers and making arrests.

“However, a ranger’s job is not done once an arrest is made. Evidence collection and case preparation are crucial parts of a ranger’s job to ensure that criminals are accountable for their crimes. Unfortunately, mistakes made during arrests and evidence collection can cause rhino and other wildlife crimes to be dismissed in court, causing the suspect to be released and able to return to poaching,” the organisation stated.

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The manual emphasises that convictions depend on detecting, investigating, and documenting offenses in a timely and systematic manner. It highlights the challenge of wildlife crime investigations due to outdoor scenes, vast areas, and tough conditions, leading to evidence loss. Overcoming these hurdles is stressed through planning, methodical investigations, technology, and legal adherence. “At every stage of the investigation, the legality of the operation must be maintained to prevent legal loopholes that could lead to the invalidation of collected documents and evidence,” the manual states.

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